Yeo's leading role among the shadows

SUFFOLK South MP Tim Yeo was one of the big winners as new Tory leader Michael Howard last night unveiled his slimmed down front-bench team.He assumes the huge responsibility of combining the health and education portfolios, while David Davis takes over home affairs, with Oliver Letwin shadowing chancellor Gordon Brown.

By Graham Dines

SUFFOLK South MP Tim Yeo was one of the big winners as new Tory leader Michael Howard last night unveiled his slimmed down front-bench team.

He assumes the huge responsibility of combining the health and education portfolios, while David Davis takes over home affairs, with Oliver Letwin shadowing chancellor Gordon Brown.

But the three Essex MPs in Iain Duncan Smith's shadow cabinet – Bernard Jenkin (North Essex), John Whittingdale (Maldon & Chelmsford East) and Eric Pickles (Brentwood & Ongar) – have lost their top jobs in defence, culture and local government.

Mr Jenkin becomes shadow secretary of state for the regions, Mr Whittingdale takes on the agriculture brief, and Mr Pickles retains local government – but none of the posts are in the Shadow Cabinet.

The major rejig is aimed at showing the difference between Tony Blair's New Labour, which has expanded government and the civil service dramatically, and Howard's Way – less interference by the state. But it risks alienating Tory MPs, fewer of whom will now have high-profile jobs.

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Mr Yeo said his appointment was "a big opportunity to get the message across to voters that the Conservatives care passionately about the key public services – and there are none bigger than hospitals and schools".

Mr Yeo, 58, who has been South Suffolk's MP since 1983, said: "In Opposition, only a limited number of people can become well-known faces to the public and that's one of the reasons the Shadow Cabinet has been reduced to just 12.

"By combining the health and education portfolios, Michael Howard has ensured that I shall have a major say in the development of our policies and how we can convince the British people that we mean business."

Mr Yeo had made it known he would like to become party chairman. "Because he knew that, Michael rang me on Sunday to inform me of the decision to appoint joint chairmen. He then offered me the combined role of education and health, which I am delighted to accept."

Although out of the Shadow Cabinet, Mr Jenkin said he was "delighted" to be playing a part in the party's revival and its "rescue of Britain from this failing Labour Government".

He said: "The Shadow Cabinet is a much smaller body and I recognise that Michael Howard wants the space to include a broad spectrum of opinion."

He said his regions brief would ensure he was able to promote the message that the Tories were the party for the whole nation and all Britons as it opposed Labour's regional agenda.

Mr Howard's second major surprise, following his decision to split the party chairmanship between Dr Liam Fox and Lord (Maurice) Saatchi, was to limit the number of people sitting in the Shadow Cabinet to just 12.

Dr Fox ran Mr Howard's successful leadership campaign – he eventually emerged unopposed – while Lord Saatchi was the new leader's right-hand man in the Lords as Conservative Treasury spokesman when Mr Howard was Shadow Chancellor.

Theresa May, who lost the party chairmanship in the shake-up, will take over the transport and environment portfolios. Mr Howard's commitment to Kenneth Clarke that a big hitter on the Euro-left of the party would be included in the Shadow team was fulfilled with David Curry's appointment as local government spokesman.

David Maclean, who stood down as Conservative Chief Whip after Iain Duncan Smith was sacked by MPs two weeks ago, has been re-appointed.

Mr Howard also said former Prime Minister John Major, former leaders William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith, plus Kenneth Clarke had agreed to advise him on policies and relations with the party nationwide.

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