Cabinet reshuffle: Brandon Lewis appointed new Tory Party chairman

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Immigration minister Brandon Lewis has been appointed as the new chairman of the Conservative Party, Downing Street confirmed.

The Great Yarmouth MP replaces Sir Patrick McLoughlin in the role, in the first appointment of Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle, where she is seeking to bolster her authority following the calamitous general election result in June.

It follows farcical scenes where the official Conservative Party Twitter account accidentally announced the wrong person by saying Transport Secretary Chris Grayling would be the new chairman.

The tweet was swiftly deleted as Mr Lewis became the first person to arrive at Number 10, where he was later announced as Sir Patrick’s replacement, and as minister without portfolio.

Sir Patrick - who was blamed by many Tories for the party’s poor election showing – told Sky News: “I’ve been in the Cabinet eight years. I have had a very good run and I enjoyed it immensely.”

In his resignation letter to the Prime Minister, he said he felt it was the right time to leave the Cabinet “as we discussed some months ago”.

The outgoing chairman has faced criticism over the way the general election campaign was run, but Ms May said he had responded to the challenge with “vigour” and praised his “wisdom, hard work and dedication”.

In a major shake-up of Conservative HQ, Ms May also appointed a string of fresh faces to party positions.

Braintree MP James Cleverly – a prominent backbencher and columnist for The Independent - was made deputy chairman, Rehman Chishti and Helen Grant as vice chairs for communities and Maria Caulfield as vice chair for women.

MPs from the 2017 intake also made the list, with rising stars Kemi Badenoch as vice chair for candidates and Ben Bradley as vice chair for youth.

However several junior ministers left the government in the move, including Chris Skidmore, a Cabinet Office minister, Andrew Jones from the Treasury, and Communities minister Marcus Jones.

Mr Lewis faces a number of challenges in his attempts to overhaul the party, as Tory membership is believed to have fallen to below 70,000.

Influential grassroots website Conservative Home reported that membership had fallen by a quarter since 2016, caused in part by the loss of Tory members who oppose Brexit.

Academics at Queen Mary University London published a major survey of party members last week, which found Tory members were less active and engaged than other parties and more likely to be disillusioned by how they are treated by their leadership.

Professor Tim Bale, one of the authors, told The Independent that Conservative bosses had “failed to capitalise on the consumerist trend” where party members felt they should have more say if they are paying to be involved.

Sir Patrick was appointed as party chairman by Ms May when she took office in July 2016. Since being elected to the Commons in 1986, he held a number of positions including Chief Whip and Transport Secretary.

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