UK's Cameron empowers outspoken ally Gove in new cabinet

AFP , Sunday 10 May 2015

Newly re-elected British Prime Minister David Cameron restored one of his most outspoken and combative allies to a leading cabinet role by naming Michael Gove as justice secretary on Sunday.

Gove was last year shunted into the role of chief whip, responsible for keeping party members in line, in what was seen as a demotion from his previous role as education secretary.

Cameron's Downing Street office confirmed Gove's appointment and also said Chris Grayling, the previous justice secretary, would now be leader of the House of Commons, a cabinet job that involves supervising the government's legislative agenda.

Nicky Morgan, Gove's successor as education secretary, remains in that role, while former junior minister for work and pensions Mark Harper will replace Gove as chief whip, Downing Street said.

One of the most radical figures in Cameron's Conservative party, Gove drove education reform by encouraging the creation of "free schools", directly funded by government but independent of local councils unlike other state schools.

He is seen by the Conservative leadership as a brave and visionary reformer, but his education programme was far from universally popular. Many in the teaching profession objected, and his flagship free schools policy has drawn criticism that it diverted state funding to places that did not need it the most.

Gove's abrasive style also stirred controversy and last year's reshuffle sparked speculation that he might have been seen as a liability in the run-up to an election.

Cameron's surprisingly clear victory in Thursday's vote has paved the way for him to make new ministerial appointments from Conservative ranks, as he is no longer reliant on his former Liberal Democrat coalition partners.

But so far the main signal has been one of continuity, with the reappointment on Friday of George Osborne as finance minister, Philip Hammond as foreign secretary, Michael Fallon as defence secretary and Theresa May as home secretary, the British term for interior minister.

Gove's approach to his new job at the justice department will be closely watched, particularly as there is some overlap between that ministry and May's Home Office.

Gove and May clashed publicly in June last year during a row about how their respective ministries had handled investigations into a potential Islamic extremist threat in schools in Birmingham, Britain's second-largest city.

The row was seen as politically sensitive because Gove is considered close to Cameron while May is seen as one of his potential successors as Conservative leader.

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