|(Clockwise from top left) William Hague, Philip Hammond who replaces Hague as the new foreign secretary and Priti Patel with David Cameron in Calcutta in November, 2013
London, July 15: William Hague, who was in India only a few days ago meeting Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, has caused widespread shock by stepping down as foreign secretary in a wide ranging cabinet reshuffle being undertaken by David Cameron.
Two other ministers who had responsibility for strengthening Britain’s strategic relationship with India — David Willets, minister of state for universities and science, and Greg Barker, energy and climate change minister who was dubbed “the minister for India”— have also resigned and will step down, like Hague, as MPs at the next election in May 2015.
On the plus side for India, Cameron’s “diaspora champion”, Priti Patel, 42, who showed the Prime Minister around Calcutta and Delhi in November last year, comes into the government as exchequer secretary.
Priti, who is the Tory MP for Witham in Essex, has been twice to India with the Prime Minister and was included in the delegation led by Hague and the chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne to Mumbai and Delhi earlier this month.
In her new job, she will be part of Osborne’s team at the treasury.
Cameron’s reshuffle, in which the Prime Minister has sought to get rid of ministers who are “white, male and stale” and replace with women ahead of the general election, has variously been called “brutal”, “a bloodletting” and “a massacre”.
Downing Street resounded this morning with the clickety click of high heels as one woman after another entered No 10 and received preferment.
Whether replacing middle aged but competent men with untried women will help Cameron to win the next election remains to be seen but the Prime Minister has responded to criticism that there were too many privileged white men, rather like himself, in the cabinet.
Thus the education secretary, Michael Gove, said to be a close friend of the Prime Minister, has been replaced by Nicky Morgan, 41, who grew up in Surrey and studied law at Oxford.
At 38, the youngest member of the cabinet will be Liz Truss, who replaces Owen Paterson as environment secretary.
Esther McVey, 46, a former TV presenter, remains minister for employment and disabilities but she will now be able to attend cabinet when her subjects come up for discussion. This morning it looked as though she has washed and blow-dried her hair and chosen her clothes carefully in readiness for the cameras.
Anna Soubry — the first female MP in the ministry of defence when she was handed a junior role in October — has been promoted to minister of state rank. And Claire Perry moves from the whips office to be a junior transport minister.
With the British media being what it is, the women ministers must be prepared for greater scrutiny of their clothes and looks than their male counterparts ever received.
Some men have resigned while others have been sacked — which comes to the same thing. Others have been demoted though there is the pretence that the new job is just as important as the old. It is the departure of Hague which is the most puzzling. He first attracted national attention in 1977 when he made a stirring speech as a 16-year-old schoolboy at the Tory party conference.
He was rewarded when Margaret Thatcher, who would become Britain’s first woman Prime Minister within two years, posed for an historic photograph with him.
Hague went on to become the Tory party leader — Priti was his deputy press secretary — but stepped down after failing to win a general election. He has been an MP for 26 years but is still only 53. He has said, not entirely convincingly, that he wants to spend more time writing books.
When Angelina Jolie was in London last month to promote a UN conference aimed at curbing the use of rape as a weapon of war, Hague spent what seemed to others to be an inordinate amount of time with the Hollywood actress.
Hague will replace Andrew Lansley as Leader of the Commons until May next year.
“Something is not quite right,” said a peer commenting on Hague’s decision to leave politics. “If he had decided to step down, why did the Prime Minister decide to send him to India earlier this month? There’s more to it.”
A reshuffle invariably triggers a game of musical chairs. The defence secretary Philip Hammond is the new foreign secretary. His job has been taken by Michael Fallon, who was energy secretary.
One of the most colourful characters to leave the government is Kenneth Clarke, 74, who did not have a cabinet portfolio but has been secretary of state for home, health and justice in his time as well as chancellor of the exchequer.
He endeared him to the public by wearing mismatching hush puppies instead of formal brogues with his dishevelled suits, smoking cigars and taking time off to watch Test cricket and listen to jazz. Gove, who was once unwise enough to allege that there were too many Etonians in government, becomes chief whip with a brief to give media interviews.