David Cameron appears to have sidelined his home secretary, Theresa May, by appointing Oliver Letwin to run the Whitehall home affairs committee and taking personal control of taskforces relating to immigration and extremism.
Close allies of Cameron and the chancellor, George Osborne, have taken charge of the most important cabinet committees that take cross-government decisions, plus most of a new raft of “implementation taskforces” charged with forcing through government plans.
May has been awarded a chairmanship of one minor Whitehall committee out of 24 – a taskforce on mitigating the risk of people returning to the UK from Syria.
In contrast, Letwin will take control of the constitutional reform committee and a sub-committee on the economy, as well as home affairs.
In the coalition government, May missed out on chairing home affairs because the job was taken by the then deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg.
May is not considered part of Cameron’s inner circle although she has served for five years in one of the great offices of state as home secretary. She is one of the favourites to be the next Conservative leader.
Letwin, an old Etonian like Cameron, has been at the heart of Downing Street as minister for government policy in overall charge of the Cabinet Office and chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, but he was only elevated to a full cabinet position after the election.
A Number 10 source denied that it was a snub to May, pointing out that she was one of the first re-appointed to the cabinet by Cameron following his election victory. “The home affairs committee covers all domestic policy including health and education as well as Home Office matters so the prime minister felt as it covered those wider areas that Oliver Letwin had the right experience across the government and departmental work,” the senior source said.
Cameron is chairing the committee on the European Union referendum, a grouping that he has kept small but which includes the strongly Eurosceptic Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary.
The prime minister will also head a sub-committee on the armed forces covenant, the National Security Council, an implementation taskforce on immigration and another on tackling extremism.
None of the main committees or sub-committees are chaired by women and only two of the total of 24 groupings have female chairs.
Downing Street said the taskforces would “make sure actions are followed through”, in an echo of Tony Blair’s decision to set up a delivery unit in No 10 partway through his tenure as PM.
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 2nd June 2015 00.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010