Page last updated at 16:39 GMT, Thursday, 8 January 2009

Clegg reshuffles top Lib Dem team

Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg says he wants to prepare the party for an election

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has reshuffled his frontbench team to prepare for the next general election.

Ex-party president Simon Hughes replaces Steve Webb as energy and climate change spokesman. Mr Webb becomes work and pensions spokesman.

Susan Kramer steps down from the front bench team to lead the party's campaign against expansion of Heathrow Airport.

Key figures such as Treasury spokesman Vince Cable and home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne remain in place.

Former justice spokesman David Heath, who was one of three Lib Dem MPs to quit the frontbench last year in protest at the leadership's opposition to a referendum on the EU treaty, returns to a frontline role.

He will go up against Commons leader Harriet Harman - the job he did before taking on the justice brief - replacing Simon Hughes in that role.

Former work and pensions spokesman Jenny Willott will take on the Duchy of Lancaster role vacated by Susan Kramer.

David Howarth becomes the party's justice spokesman - a role that was being filled by Chris Huhne.

Other changes include a new job for Lynne Featherstone, the party's spokesman on youth issues, who will now also oversee the party's online campaigning as chair of its new technology board.

Economic recovery

John Sharkey, Mr Clegg's adviser on strategic communications, has been appointed deputy chair of the general election campaign, working with the party's elections chief Lord Rennard and Chris Fox, the party's new director of policy and communications.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness, former Deputy First Minister of Scotland, has been appointed to advise on the party's relations with senior civil servants.

I am proud to lead the best front-bench team in British politics, a team which has consistently been ahead of the curve on the big debates that matter to the British people
Nick Clegg

Mr Clegg has also created an "economic recovery group", including key frontbench figures such as Vince Cable and Danny Alexander, who is coordinator of the party's election manifesto.

He said: "I am proud to lead the best front-bench team in British politics, a team which has consistently been ahead of the curve on the big debates that matter to the British people.

"This team leaves the Liberal Democrats well placed to take the fight to both Labour and the Conservatives in the run-up to the general election and to bring about the change that Britain needs."

The reshuffle follows a report in the Sunday Mirror in November which claimed Mr Clegg had been overheard criticising a number of his frontbench colleagues, including Mr Webb and Mr Huhne.

Asked about this on BBC One's Politics Show, the Lib Dem leader said that "a lot of it is, frankly, fiction".

An opinion poll of 1,000 people, published last month by ComRes, put the party on 16%, with the Conservatives on 39% and Labour on 34%.

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