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Big names survive British Cabinet reshuffle

Hunt had battled calls to resign over his closeness to Murdoch.

LONDON: British Prime Minister David Cameron reshuffled his ailing coalition government Tuesday, but kept unpopular Finance Minister George Osborne and Foreign Minister William Hague in their jobs. While most of the Cabinet big hitters emerged unscathed, Cameron promoted Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt, who has battled calls to resign over his closeness to Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, to the Health Ministry.

Addressing one of the pressing issues in his in-tray as parliament returns to work after the summer break, Cameron sacked Transport Minister Justine Greening, who was seen as blocking the expansion of London’s Heathrow airport.

Greening becomes international development minister while former chief whip Patrick McLoughlin takes over her transport brief, as the government faces urgent calls for an expansion of airport capacity in London.

In his first reshuffle since the coalition government came to power two and a half years ago, Cameron sought to rejuvenate the Conservative Party element in the Cabinet with an eye on the next general election in 2015.

But Cameron has resisted calls to remove Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer who was booed at the 80,000-capacity Olympic Stadium in east London Monday when he presented athletes medals at the Paralympics.

The promotion of Hunt surprised political commentators.

He had clung on to his job in April despite claims his office leaked confidential information to Murdoch’s News Corp. over its bid to take full control of British pay-TV giant BSkyB.

Hunt, who oversaw the London Olympics as part of his ministerial role, was branded “Minister for Murdoch” by critics, but insisted he did not pass any confidential information to News Corp. himself.

News Corp. was forced to drop its 7.8 billion pounds ($12.2 billion) bid for full control of the highly profitable BSkyB in July 2011 over the phone-hacking scandal at its British tabloid, the News of the World.

London Mayor Boris Johnson hit out at the removal of Greening, saying it meant the government was intent on the “simply mad” policy of a new runway at Heathrow, and vowed to fight any such expansion “all the way.”

The charismatic Johnson – seen as a possible future challenger to Cameron as Conservative leader – favors the construction of a brand new airport in the Thames estuary.

Cameron has vowed to “cut through the dither” and breathe new life into the recession-mired economy with a series of new initiatives in this parliamentary term. But he has rejected calls to abandon his government’s policy of focusing on reining in Britain’s deficit through deep cuts in public spending.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 05, 2012, on page 10.

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