John Hayes, a Tory minister who has been at the centre of fierce coalition rows over UK energy policy, has been stripped of his responsibilities and given a role as the prime minister’s parliamentary troubleshooter.
A vehement opponent of wind farms, Mr Hayes was dispatched to the energy department last year with a mission to rein in the green enthusiasms of his boss, Liberal Democrat energy secretary Ed Davey.
But after six months of ministerial feuding Mr Hayes is on his way out, although Tory officials insist his new position as a “senior parliamentary adviser” to David Cameron does not represent a demotion.
He will be replaced by Michael Fallon, the Tory business minister, who will now straddle two departments: business and energy. His brief will be to give “energy policy more of a business focus”, Tory officials said.
Mr Davey praised Mr Hayes’s work on the energy bill and insisted they had a better relationship than many believed.
“Michael Fallon will help cement the links I’ve been making across government as energy is such a critical industry for the UK’s growth prospects,” Mr Davey said.
Mr Fallon is a key ally of the chancellor, George Osborne, and is seen in the Treasury as having the experience and heft to push through a more business-friendly energy policy and to implement the energy
Andrew Tyrie, a senior Tory MP who described coalition energy policy as “incoherent and damaging” in 2011, welcomed Mr Fallon’s appointment. “Aspects of energy policy are pulling in several directions at once,” he said. “Michael is the man to help sort this out.”;
But a Labour source said it was a “bizarre decision” to “downgrade” Mr Fallon’s business brief, given that the “Bis” department was already behind schedule in several key areas, such as increasing the flow of finance to small companies, regional growth funds and the business bank.
Mr Fallon, a rightwing bruiser, is unlikely to take a softer line on green power. He is among those Tories who believe British industry needs affordable power and is an enthusiast for the potential of shale gas.
However, the change of personnel might bring some stability to energy policy. Although Mr Fallon is a tough operator, he has worked well alongside the Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable since last September.
Meanwhile, Mr Hayes’s move represents an attempt by the prime minister to address the widening gap between Number 10 and a restive parliamentary party. Mr Hayes will sit in meetings as a “minister without portfolio” and provide a link with MPs.
Known for his fondness for florid rhetoric, Mr Hayes is popular with Tory MPs and will be Mr Cameron’s eyes and ears in a party that is starting to consider the prospect of life under a new leader.
The prime minister has been accused by many of his MPs of neglecting party relationships. Some MPs believe the party will lose the next election and are speculating over who might replace Mr Cameron as leader after 2015.
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