After the invigoration of the London Olympics and the Cornish air at Polzeath, David Cameron is on Monday plunged back into a war of political attrition as MPs return to Westminster after their summer break.

Halfway through the five-year parliament and with the economy mired in recession, Mr Cameron will finalise his first major reshuffle since the 2010 election and attempt to seize the initiative by coming up with more ideas to stimulate growth.

The going is getting tougher for Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg, his Liberal Democrat deputy, both of whom can sense their political authority slipping away with every month that the economy refuses to budge.

Government insiders expect a reshuffle this week – possibly on Tuesday – but it seems unlikely that the change of personnel will make a significant impact on the coalition’s political fortunes.

Mr Cameron is not going to sack George Osborne – Brian Binley, a Tory backbencher, on Sunday called for the chancellor to be demoted to party chairman – nor is he about to fundamentally change the government’s economic course.

The whispers coming out of Number 10 are that William Hague, foreign secretary, Theresa May, home secretary, and Michael Gove, education secretary, will all remain in post, suggesting little significant change at the top.

The political futures of Ken Clarke and Sayeeda Warsi, hoping to stay on as justice secretary and party chairman respectively, are less certain as are the careers of Andrew Lansley at health, Caroline Spelman at agriculture and Jeremy Hunt at culture.

Perhaps more significant than the fate of current cabinet members will be the signal Mr Cameron sends about the likely shape of a Tory front bench after the 2015 election: whether he promotes loyal Cameron modernisers or members of the increasingly assertive Tory right, including those from the articulate 2010 intake.

Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne remain vulnerable to attacks from the right for as long as the economy is flat on its back – a condition many Tory MPs attribute to the lack of Thatcherite reforming zeal shown by the prime minister and chancellor.

David Davis, a former leadership contender, set out in the Sunday Telegraph a rightwing “alternative economic strategy” containing familiar calls for bigger cuts to public spending accompanied by tax cuts. Like many Tory MPs he wants Mr Cameron to advocate the “managed break-up” of the euro.

The prime minister’s reshuffle this week will be accompanied by an economic relaunch, including measures to appeal to the right, as well as another legislative crack at streamlining the planning system.

“Frankly, I’m frustrated by the hoops you have to jump through to get anything done,” Mr Cameron told the Mail on Sunday. Consultations and judicial reviews will be curtailed; ministers insist there will be no change of policy on the greenbelt.

But ministers made similar complaints about the cumbersome planning system in 2010 and pushed through a major planning reform bill intended to address it; as the recession drags on, Mr Cameron is having to revisit the same area of policy to demonstrate his commitment to reform.

Other moves are being discussed to reform employment law – another enthusiasm of the Tory right – but some of the biggest elements of the growth “relaunch” are firmly rooted in the political centre, the result of compromise with the Lib Dems.

Mr Osborne’s promise of government guarantees to help facilitate £10bn of housing projects and the creation of a state-sponsored small business bank fall into the “active state” model of social democracy advocated by Vince Cable, Lib Dem business secretary.

Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg are faced with mirror images of the same political problem. The prime minister is attacked from the Tory right for giving too much ground to the Lib Dems, Mr Clegg is under pressure from the Lib Dem base to pull the coalition further to the left.

Until their centrist approach starts to return economic dividends, both Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg know that the political skirmishes of early September portend much more serious problems ahead.

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