Bonfire of the moderates: Cameron shifts Tories firmly to the right

David Cameron switched off the life support machine of One Nation Conservatism last night, as he culled the remaining moderates in senior government positions.

The announcement by William Hague that he would leave his Foreign Office brief and step down as an MP in the 2015 election led the news reports, but behind the scenes the prime minister appeared to be singling out centrist Tories for replacement by younger, predominantly female MPs.

Among the moderate sacrifices of the reshuffle were:

  • Ken Clarke, minister without portfolio
  • Dominic Grieve, attorney general
  • Sir George Young, chief whip
  • Alan Duncan, international development minister
  • David Willetts, universities minister

The departure of Clarke and Grieves removes the last obstacle to the dismantling of some of Britain's human rights protections, which has long been demanded by Tory backbenchers.

Former director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer tweeted: "Removal of Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve from Cabinet paves way for a Conservative assault on human rights. Robust Labour defence needed."

Asked if Cameron could have convinced him to stay if he had tried, Clarke replied: "He might have persuaded me."

Speaking to the Today programme, Clarke said he did not know whether he and Grieves had been cleared out in preparation for an assault on human rights.

"I know nothing, I didn't inquiry," he said.

"I have heard Dominic has resigned. I regret he's gone.

"I personally think its unthinkable we should leave the European Convention on Human Rights. It was drafted by British lawyers after World War Two.

"It’s the way in which we uphold the kind of values we strive for, which are rule of law, individual liberty, justice for all."

It is understood that Cameron will make reform of human rights law the centrepiece of his conference speech in October.

The prime minister faced one of the biggest rebellions of his career in January when nearly 100 of his MPs voted to curb the power of judges to block deportation where foreign criminals have a family link to Britain.

He also made Britain's relationship with the European court of human rights a centrepiece of his European election strategy later in the year.

Clarke and Grieves had long held out against any moves in that area and it remains a deal-breaker for the Liberal Democrats.

But with the two remaining Tory obstacles to reform gone, Cameron is likely to make wide-ranging reform of Britain's human rights commitments a centrepiece of his manifesto in 2015.

Clarke's remarkable career included positions as paymaster general, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, secretary of state for health, secretary of state for education, home secretary, chancellor of the exchequer, lord chancellor and secretary of state for justice and minister without portfolio.

Clarke always spoke his mind, not least when he challenged Theresa May's claims about human rights law in a public spat at the 2011 Tory party conference.

Duncan was considered one of the most socially liberal senior Tories. He recently led arguments against backbench MPs demanding an end to the 0.7% target for international development spending.

He was the first openly gay Tory member of parliament, is considered a key moderniser and was once described as the "liberal, urbane face of the Conservative party".

One of the chapters of his book, Saturn's Children, argued for the legalisation of all drugs, although he removed it to spare the blushes of the Tory leadership. The chapter was published on his personal website although it was later deleted.

Also on the way out was Willetts, known as 'two brains' for his formidable intellectual abilities.

Willetts was once considered the "real father of Cameronism", back when the Tory leader was seen as a centrist himself.

His ideas of civic conservatism were seen by some in the party as a way of articulating a Tory philosophy which was more appealing than Margaret Thatcher's insistence that there is "no such thing as society".

David Jones, Welsh minister, was also sacked in the reshuffle. The young MP recently argued gay couples could "clearly" provide "a warm and safe environment for the upbringing of children".

Priti Patel, a right-wing Tory MP who supports the death penalty and takes a hardline view on immigration, has been promoted to the Treasury as exchequer secretary dealing with tax policy.

Michael Dugher, Labour's shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, commented: "This reshuffle shows how weak David Cameron is, running scared of his own right wing."

Philip Hammond will take over from Hague as foreign secretary in what will also be seen as a rightward shift.

Although both Hammond and Hague are eurosceptics, Hammond is the only one to have openly contemplated life outside of the EU. His appointment will please eurosceptics on the Tory backbenches.

Hammond wil be replaced as defence secretary by Michael Fallon.

Hague will replace Andrew Lansley, who was hopelessly tainted following the NHS reforms, as leader of the House in the run-up to the election, where he will help formulate Tory campaign strategy for the north.

The foreign secretary is widely considered to have grown bored with one of the great offices of state, and is understood to be planning a return to book writing and the lucrative after-dinner speaking circuit.

He tweeted: "From May 2015, after such a long period in politics I want to embark on many other things I have always wanted to do. Renewal in politics is good, and holding office is not an end in itself. After 26 years as an MP time will be right for me to move on.”

The departure of Hague is not as devastating to Cameron as it once was but it marks a major change for a prime minister who once called him "my deputy in all but name".

In other developments, Owen Paterson, who struggled to sell the badger cull in the face of protests from animal welfare groups and scientists, lost his job as environment secretary.

Damian Green, policing minister, is also out, alongside Greg Barker, Nick Hurd, Andrew Robathan and Hugh Robertson.