Prime Minister John Major reshuffled his Cabinet Wednesday - from top to bottom - as part of his effort to rescue the Conservative Party.
Major’s reorganization, his third in five years as prime minister, anchored his government more firmly in the center of Conservative politics, with no significant concessions to the boisterous anti-Europe right.
He created the post of deputy prime minister, giving the job to the right wing’s archenemy, warhorse Michael Heseltine. He replaced retiring Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd with Malcolm Rifkind, currently the defense secretary. The hero of the right, Michael Portillo, became defense secretary, an important job but one that leaves little time for politics or crusades.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke remained in place.
Major’s new cabinet turned out Wednesday to be mostly old faces in new roles. Major’s 22-member Cabinet had only four new members, including replacements for Secretary of State John Redwood, who had quit the Cabinet to challenge Major in Tuesday’s vote and for Jonathan Aitken, first secretary of the treasury, who resigned Tuesday night, saying he needed to devote his energies to pursuing libel cases against media organizations that have accused him of various misdeeds. Hurd had announced his retirement last week.
By the end of the day, however, the party was rid of several liabilities: a gaffe-prone party chairman, a scandal-prone Cabinet minister and the health secretary, who got a new job after alienating parliament members by closing National Health Service hospitals.
Rifkind is respected by U.S. officials here and in Washington. The affable Scottish lawyer - a shrewd and careful politician - has been defense secretary since the Conservatives won the last general election in 1992. While supportive of NATO as the basis of European defense, Rifkind also has been pressing for a better coordinated all-European vehicle for defense policy.
He has spent much of the past few years worrying about Bosnia, where British troops are deployed with the U.N. Protection Force. He is a Major loyalist, but has pleased anti-Europe Conservatives by questioning European Union plans for a common currency.