Michael Gove is returning to frontline politics as justice secretary
Michael Gove is returning to frontline politics as justice secretary

David Cameron will on Monday put the finishing touches to his cabinet and address his 330 newly elected Conservative MPs, vowing to “renew a sense of fairness in our society”.

Mr Cameron has shown remarkable loyalty to senior ministers who served in his first administration, most of whom keep their jobs in his new all-Conservative cabinet.

The prime minister announced on Sunday night that Iain Duncan Smith would keep his job as work and pensions secretary, with a remit to see through £12bn of welfare cuts and implement the troubled plan for a single universal credit.

George Osborne remains as chancellor, Theresa May stays as home secretary and Philip Hammond will continue as foreign secretary but there are likely to be more sweeping changes on Monday.

Highly rated ministers including Sajid Javid, culture secretary, Matthew Hancock, business minister, Jo Johnson, cabinet office minister, and David Gauke, Treasury minister, are all tipped for promotion.

With more than two dozen coalition ministerial posts vacated by Liberal Democrats — whose shrunken parliamentary party has returned to the opposition benches — Mr Cameron has more room for manoeuvre.

He is likely to promote eurosceptic MPs in an attempt to maintain party discipline, as he embarks on an EU renegotiation whose outcome is unlikely to satisfy all members of his party.

Mr Cameron will tell his newly assembled MPs at Westminster: “The next five years will be all about renewal.”

He will promise to invest in infrastructure, bolster the north, transfer more powers to Scotland “while recognising we are stronger together as the United Kingdom” and settle Britain’s relationship with the EU.

In perhaps the most intriguing cabinet appointment so far, Michael Gove will become justice secretary and lord chancellor. He will face a battle with lawyers over more cuts to legal aid within days of taking over the job.

Mr Gove returned to frontline politics over the weekend after being promoted from Conservative chief whip to the justice portfolio, where he will take charge of scrapping human rights legislation and reforming prisons.

But it is the government’s attempts to change legal aid that could present his first major challenge, with some in the legal profession talking about the possibility of strikes.

Tony Cross QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said on Sunday: “The criminal justice system has already shouldered severe cost cuts as part of the wide austerity drive.”

He added: “Targeted savings to the nation’s annual legal aid bill have already been achieved four years ahead of government-set timelines, with the legal aid spend down to £1.5bn last year, a target set for 2018-19 and a fall from the £2.2bn spend in 2010.

“There is no fat, no meat even as the criminal justice system is down to the bone.”

The government set out plans in the last parliament to reduce by two-thirds the number of contracts that are awarded for legal aid work, something lawyers say will lead to an increase in miscarriages of justice.

And one person close to the Criminal Bar Association said the profession could repeat a day-long strike it held last year in an attempt to force the government to back down.

Lawyers are also likely to oppose government attempts to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it instead with a British bill of rights.

But one ally of Mr Gove said he would take a hard line on any such attempts to change the government’s mind on doing so. The person said: “Some parts of the legal profession have already objected to the human rights proposals. [Mr Gove] will listen to what people have to say but it is very clear what we want to do and we have a mandate to do it.”

The ally also suggested Mr Gove was likely to try to launch another attempt to reform prisons, something his predecessor, Ken Clarke, tried to do in the face of opposition from his own party.

Mr Gove’s precise proposals are unclear but his ally said: “We need to look at how we can deliver this vital public service better.”

Chris Grayling, the man Mr Gove replaced in the justice department, will take on the task of trying to push through Tory proposals to remove voting rights from Scottish MPs.

The Conservatives promised to introduce a new voting stage in the Commons for English and Welsh MPs to give their verdict on legislation that does not affect Scotland.

This will have to be done quickly — the party promised that it would be in place in time for the Budget next spring, at which point Scottish MPs will be denied a deciding vote on any changes to income tax.

Mark Harper, who stood down as immigration minister during the last parliament after being told his cleaner did not have permission to work in the UK, is to become Conservative chief whip.

He will have to keep his party together while Mr Cameron tries to govern with a majority of just 12 MPs. That task is likely to become difficult as the Conservatives get closer to an EU referendum, which threatens to split the party in the same way as Europe did in the 1990s.

David Davis, one of the party’s leading eurosceptics who made life so difficult for Sir John Major when he was prime minister, suggested however that the party would unite behind Mr Cameron over the next two years.

Mr Davis told the BBC’s Andrew Marr: “I don’t think we will repeat the Major years for three reasons. One, we’ve done it before, we know what it feels like; two, people have got the option of talking to [Mr Cameron] more; and three, if they don’t like the outcome, they can campaign against it.”

Nicky Morgan, who replaced Mr Gove as education secretary after he was sacked last year, will continue in her role as the Tory party looks to salvage its reputation among teachers.

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