Michael Gove is to be returned to a major government department as justice secretary in the wake of the Conservative general election victory.
In a second round of senior appointments since the election, the prime minister is reshuffling Gove, who has been his chief whip in charge of party discipline since July last year, to the Ministry of Justice, taking charge of prisons, sentencing and criminal justice.
Gove was removed as education secretary last year to head the whips’ office, reportedly at the behest of the party’s general election strategist Lynton Crosby, who feared that the former journalist’s “toxic image” could be a vote loser. At the time Gove’s wife, the journalist Sarah Vine, made her feelings clear about the cabinet minister’s move out of the limelight by tweeting a link to a Daily Mail article that the newspaper headlined “A shabby day’s work which Cameron will live to regret”.
Downing Street sources have always insisted that the move was made merely to bring a key operator into the centre of the election campaign at a crucial time.
Gove’s return to a government department appears to confirm the prime minister’s trust in him, although it will inevitably dismay many outside of the Conservative party who were enraged by his trenchant views and combative style during his time at the Department for Education.
Gove is seen as a genuine radical unafraid of ruffling feathers by many within the Conservative fold, some of whom will be disappointed that he is not returning to the education department.
It was also announced that Nicky Morgan will stay on as education secretary and minister for equalities. A source within Downing Street said: “This is a huge vote of confidence in Nicky Morgan, who will continue with the radical programme of education reform, dramatically increasing the number of free schools and academies.”
Chris Grayling, who sealed a reputation as a tough-talking rightwinger during his time as justice secretary, is being moved to the role of leader of the House of Commons. A source said: “This is a key role in a majority government, shepherding through crucial legislation.”
There have been longstanding concerns about Gove’s interest in the role of chief whip, with some MPs claiming that the former education secretary left much of the work to his deputy, Greg Hands. A failed coup against the speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, which was engineered by Gove in the last days of the last parliament, sealed the perception that his heart was not in the role.
With Cameron’s majority of 12 being smaller than that enjoyed by John Major in the early 1990s, Cameron will be keen to get the appointment of Gove’s replacement right. A source said a decision was yet to be made.
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