Tory leader Michael Howard has revealed the new shadow cabinet.
Big winners in the reshuffle are new shadow home secretary David Davis and new shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin.
The shadow cabinet is nearly halved in size to 12, with ex-chairman Theresa May getting transport and the environment, Tim Yeo health and education and Liam Fox and Lord Saatchi sharing the job of chairman.
Former leaders John Major, Iain Duncan Smith and William Hague, and former chancellor Ken Clarke, are on a new panel to advise the leadership.
What difference will Mr Howard's new team make? What does it show about the political make up of Howard's shadow cabinet?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
Some people seem to be under the impression that a slimmed down Shadow Cabinet will save money. Wrong. The only member of the Shadow Cabinet who gets paid for it is the leader so this won't save us a penny.
Michael Howard has said nothing to suggest that - in the highly unlikely event of the Tories winning the next election - the cabinet would be any smaller than the present one. This team is structured to be a campaigning organisation, not a government in waiting.
At Last the conservatives are on the path to recovery! Now they have elected a strong leader, and an excellent speaker, its time to build on it and become an effective opposition. I quite hope that we have a government back in power like that of Margaret Thatcher, at least under her leadership we had a strange government with competent people and a leader that stood up for Britain and everything British. We need someone like that, and at least Michael Howard is someway to that. But I have to agree that I don't think they will get to government, but he has made a good start and the party is moving forward. Certainly a breath of fresh air from the bland, weak leadership of the party since 1997.
Gary Busuttil, Leeds, United Kingdom
It's probably better for democracy that there's a more hard hitting opposition but can't see the conservatives winning because they're too right wing. It should be the lib dems are the main opposition but they don't have any speakers as good as Howard. The conservative should stop being the right wing party and start being the right way party. Then there can be a proper debate in the commons
Matthew Freedman, UK
Michael Howard has made a good choice in his cabinet and cutting its size both recognises the reality that a smaller group can perform better and that Conservatives believe in government being small. I'm looking forward to the General Election and the new talent that will enter Parliament for the Conservatives - that will produce an even better cabinet.
Susan Carey, UK
Why are so many people saying that he (the leader of the conservative party) is good or bad for them and more importantly this country? I think it is only right that the new leader of a political party should be given at least 18 mouths to prove themselves to the people. only then can we make a judgement on his leadership skills.
I really must correct the belief, quoted in several of these e-mails, that under Labour crime has risen: the way of recording crime has changed, but the British Crime Survey (which the Tories always pointed to as being "more accurate" when recorded crime was rising by 16% per year) actually shows crime back at the levels of the early 80s. Instead, ask Michael Howard about police numbers under his Home Secretaryship!
Andrew Rogers, United Kingdom
How many of you have made a mistake at work? If you were constantly judged on your past failures you would never get promotion. People change, so before condemning Howard, let's give him a chance. I wasn't best pleased with the news, but am starting to feel a bit more optimistic as I feel the Tories are beginning to get a sense of direction.
How refreshing to see such opposing views on this page. At last we have a viable opposition again. For too long we have seen a Tory party with an identity crisis as Labour has gradually moved right of centre (albeit with ludicrously high taxes). As for the new-look shadow cabinet, people need to understand that the job of a shadow minister is not the same as the job of a cabinet minister. What Howard has done is create a team to fight the election as an opposition. Once in power he would obviously re-structure for the different challenges of government.
I fully support the slimming down of the shadow cabinet. But whilst many jobs are combined in a single shadow cabinet minister, there are many other MPs appointed to 'shadow' particular ministers individually. For example, there is a shadow cabinet minister for health and education, and a shadow secretary of state for health and a shadow secretary of state for education. All that has been trimmed down is the shadow cabinet itself. Check your facts before you rant about things!
Chris Hawes, Great Britain
They are traditional, Tories go on how they used to do things, all one foot in the grave stuff. It is all about gaining power not making Britain better for them. So I am not voting for them.
In respect of the make up of the new shadow cabinet, well it's a start. But looking at photograph of the members of the shadow cabinet sitting round a table as it appeared in the national dailies early this week, one glaring problem is obvious - the conservative party seeks to speak for all sections of British Society, yet it has no ethnic minority MPs. As a conservative by heart (identifying with the values and policies the conservative party espouses), I make a heartfelt appeal to Mr Howard to do more to make the conservative party more inclusive of people from ethnic minority backgrounds. Until then, I guess I'd simply stay at home on polling day.
Yagazie Nwaigwe, United Kingdom
I can't believe the Tories honestly think Michael Howard will ever be PM. And his 'new' team? I was half expecting him to bring back Thatcher. It's the best Christmas present Blair could want!
It's great that the Tory party has downsized their structure. It will not only save money for the country but also cut down red tap. However there is something wrong with the Joint positions. Two of the positions linked together does not make sense. Why not health and sport minister? They could also have join education and employment. At least there are some links in both joint positions. Please change it to what I just suggested before it's too late.
Geoffrey Quansah, UK
"Soft on crime, soft on the causes of crime." That's what this disgraceful Government is about. Give the Tory Leader and his Shadow Cabinet a chance and I promise the will out-perform "New Labour".
Karl, United Kingdom
The Conservatives have finally decided to get their act together and become Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and a Government in waiting. Michael Howard is brilliant and he will be the next PM.
Richard, Worcestershire, England
Slimming down the shadow cabinet is one thing but rolling health and education into one portfolio is plain daft. Especially if you will go and appoint a failed minister to the role. The shadow cabinet may not need to "mirror" the government totally but it should have the capacity to, er, shadow it. I can't see how the talentless Tim Yeo can shadow two heavyweights like John Reid and Charles Clarke.
Alexander Davies, Hull, UK
I think my tenner is on Labour for the next election, and I don't even want them. Until a party comes along that seems honest, realistic and actually represents my views I can't bring myself to vote for any of them.
This is a joke right? First the Tories shoot themselves in the foot and force out their leader, now they shoot themselves in the foot by filling the cabinet with people who are stuck in the 80's! Show us a poll of what the country think to this Tory circus!
Why oh why do anti-Tory critics constantly go on about the history of individuals? Do they realise how much the current government have changed their views - from ardent anti privatisation to privatisation of the National Health by the back door; from ardent anti Europe to being more pro Europe than the French. If History was the sole arbiter of election success then we would not have had a Labour government!
Michael Howard has demonstrated excellent judgement and vision in take the appropriate actions to complete a single task - that of winning the next election. His all inclusive team backed up by the advisory team provides a very strong balance. The Tories have been constantly winning local council elections over the last few years - this team is now set up to repeat this at a general election.
The combined roles are wiser than they might at first seem. Many environmentally issues are road and traffic related, and our education has a direct impact on health. Combined shadow ministers may be able to spot the links and form integrated policies around them.
The new "team" is a joke. I don't think he could have chosen worse combination of people guaranteed not to work well together. The A team in ain't. The government have nothing to worry about in the next general election.
Gavin Park, UK
How refreshing - Mr Howard has taken a new slim lined approach to opposition that I believe will be fruitful. For those who say there is only one shadow cabinet minister for health and education, there are actually three! More people doing the job, this really is an exciting time for the country - we have our opposition back.
James, Lancashire, UK
It tells you a lot about the Conservative priorities these days: Two Party Chairmen but one spokesman for Education and Health.
This is clever, it will be a highly focused team who can meet regularly, form a proper relationship with the public through the media and together have a firm grasp on policy but still have the backing of numerous junior ministers. Any businessman would understand this, you couldn't run a board meeting with 20 odd people. This is an interesting, innovative move and illustrates the difficulties Blair will face in predicting opposition strategy.
Matt Wright, Wales
I'll vote for him because I'm a natural Tory, but the party is stale. Michael Ancram, Tim Yeo, David Curry, they're all faces from the past, led by a man from the past. Theresa May as Shadow Home Secretary, Julie Kirkbride, Caroline Spellman, Tim Collins ... where are these excellent politicians who can ENGAGE with the public. They're hidden/buried in obsolete shadow ministries. Come on MH, let's give the Tories a little bit of appeal ... sex appeal?
David Speirs, Scotland
I am delighted to see Michael Ancram continuing in his senior role. With his forensic debating skills, and rapier-like wit, he will continue to grill the Govt on international issues. Well done Mr Howard for proving that the Conservatives are a broad church, and including David Curry.
Alan Skelton, UK
There are two sorts of good leaders. There are the "Firefighters" who will pull everyone together and get you out of trouble when things go badly wrong. The other type is the "Steady Hand" who provide long term stability and direction. Like TB, MH will be good in the first role. I think the Tories will experience resurgence under his leadership. However, while I think TB may make the transition to "Steady Hand" if he gets a third term, I think MH does not have the basic "lovability" to do the same. It is unfortunate that we only have one charismatic party leader in this country at present. Perhaps we should be grateful that he is in charge.
Dave Hollick, England
MH has made an excellent start in setting up his "slimmed down" cabinet and advisory committees. I can just imagine Tony Blair saying that he was just about to do the same thing. Nothing is carved in stone and the Tories can adapt and change their line up as the need arises.
Is this really a new and refreshed shadow cabinet, full of new faces and new ideas? Obviously, no. Same tired old faces, who only looked fresh during the Thatcher years. Michael Howard trying to lead from the centre? When everyone knows his history in politics. I am afraid that the Tory party will not form a Government now for probably another 10 years.
Mark Gratton, England
I think we need to wait and see. This Shadow Cabinet has some oddities, but then again Tony Blair has always managed to choose a few second-raters, and it's never done him any harm! What was important was for Howard to show leadership, and I think, so far, he has done that. Over the next weeks and months, we'll see how this lot perform.
Bringing the likes of Saatchi back in a vain attempt to create what these deluded right-wingers see as the "glorious era of Thatcherism" smacks of complete desperation. If this is the combined best effort of what the Tories can assemble then I suggest that they dissolve themselves as a mainstream political party now.
Robert Crosby, Nottingham, UK
John Major, Iain Duncan Smith and William Hague advising the leadership? Talk about the blind leading the blind! Good night Tories!
A great idea to slim down the headcount, the first ACTION of providing us taxpayers better value for money from the state machine.
Now for the real test - delivering a real, consistent and effective opposition to this discredited government. What better way to win over hearts and minds to the argument that it IS possible to deliver better public services without the need to clobber middle taxpayers in order to create inefficient jobs for, lets face it, New Labour's core voter base!
Sadly, Howard's 'downsized' shadow cabinet experiment will only serve to confuse people - and hiding two top performers like Tim Collins and Julie Kirkbride underneath dysfunctional shadow cabinet 'overlords' will do nothing to help Howard win the next General Election! He's given himself everything to do with this reshuffle. David Davis is nicely placed to take over if Howard loses. As I say, sad.
Terry Daly, England
Although it is predictable and honourable that Michael Howard would reward those who supported his election bid, this reshuffle is really a case of musical chairs. How can he lead from the centre when most of the shadow cabinet, who served under IDS, were considered too right-wing? In addition, he really needed some tough cookies to take on some of Labour's more colourful characters e.g. Theresa May vs Prescott on transport is hardly fair game!
Jules W, UK
I think the Conservative party has some fundamental structural issues to address - not least the fact that its' active membership is ageing so fast. I think for many people though the enthronement of Howard sums up the view that the Tories are looking back to a past age. I certainly couldn't vote for a leader who had served the administrations of both Thatcher and Major - not least because BR privatisation ruined my career structure
M Cooper, UK
When the Labour party combined Peter Hain's role as Secretary of State for Wales and Leader of the House of Commons, the Tory party was up in arms, calling him a "Part time Secretary of State", but now, they haven't even got a shadow for him in the Shadow Cabinet, double standards or what!
Martyn Williams, Wales
Probably the two most important posts in Government are Health and Education and therefore deserve leading opposition spokespersons to challenge the Government. But what do we get one shadow cabinet spokesman to cover both posts! We now know where the Tories stand on these issues!
On the whole, good especially the idea of having a panel of advisers. He needs to use them wisely though or they will get bored and then they may pursue other interests like plotting. I have my doubts over combining education and health; great idea of having less but it may not send the right message to the voters in those 2 particular fields.
Chris W, England
Michael Howard and his new Shadow Cabinet are the perfect team. They will make all the difference needed to humiliate Labour at the next election. Also they will prevent the ludicrous Liberal Democrats from ever becoming opposition.
MH appears to have stopped trying to limply shadow the government's initiatives and has formed a team to fight an election. When he wins he can then form a ruling government machine. Good for him. Firm direction at last.
Ian Chapple, UK
A lot of the people who deride the concept of a small shadow cabinet would do well to consider how many of the 20 something cabinet ministers are well known in the country. It makes sense to have a small, publicly recognisable and accountable team to make, and be seen to make, the key decisions.
I think the combining of Health and Education, and transport is a disgrace. From backing Howard for leadership, and being a staunch Tory, I am utterly disillusioned.
E Morrison, UK
Typical. It takes two men to do one woman's job.
It is unfortunate that Dr Liam Fox has been moved from Health as he had a lot of good ideas: hopefully there won't be any major shift in Tory health policy under Tim Yeo.
Dr Dominic Horne, Scotland
As a Brit living in the US, I am delighted that Michael Howard has acceded to the Tory throne. It means that Tony Blair is being given a free ride into the next general election. Howard represents all that was awful about Thatcherism and the economic disasters it generated for the United Kingdom. Just as Margaret Thatcher was unelectable in the mid-90s, so is Howard unelectable now.
Gordon Clifford, USA
If we are to believe that the Conservatives are really focussing on public services, it seems nonsensical, both in terms of appearance and reality, to have one Shadow Cabinet member for Health AND Education. If this is really what is planned, it sounds like a serious own goal. Labour will have great fun with this.
Eldon Sandys, UK
The idea of combining briefs is a great one. Many of the problems with difficult children in Education are inextricably linked to parts of the Health brief - because of the role of Doctors, psychologists and Social Services. This sort of arrangement will allow some of the disconnections in these areas to be addressed. Once again this shows that the Conservatives want every child in our education system to count. The obvious links between environment and transport make joining these briefs another logical move.
Martin Curtis, England
One MP shadowing both Health and Education? One shadowing Transport and the Environment? Presumably the Tories don't plan on being in government so they don't need a full shadow cabinet. Or is the idea that, once they've privatised health and education, they'll only need one person in charge or both?
Michael Howard's appointments suggest he's scraping the bottom of a very empty barrel looking for half decent Tory politicians. They're uninspiring, out of touch and uncharismatic. The country and the party needs Portillo and Clarke - sadly we will have neither
Howard is an intelligent man and experienced politician. He has a proven track record of success. Howard as Home Secretary reduced crime! Under Labour crime has soared up! Asylum is out of control, Labour is either unable or unwilling to stem the tide bogus asylum seekers and economic immigrants. Labour is unwilling to make the reforms needed to make the NHS more efficient. Labour has failed on too many fronts to mention. The Conservatives look much more professional and competent. Howard has assembled a good team, now they need to effectively promote and explain their policies. Howard MUST exploit Labour's failings!
Barvin P, London,
As a former Conservative, when I lived in the U.K. All I can say is, until the Conservative party realises the only way it can govern any more is from the centre, not the right, its days of power are over. Thatcher was great at the time Labour was dictated to by left wing extremist unions, but now, the fear of the far left is gone, and "Nasty Tory" is not the only alternative to the "looney left"
Stuart Sanders, Canada
I sincerely hope that Michael Howard's leadership CAN help turn the Tories into a credible opposition but I am little worried about what message it sends out when you rate the party chairman's job as too big for one person at the same time you ask a single MP to look after the all important areas of Health & Education!
Stewart Hilton, England
If the reports are true and Tim Yeo gets both Health and Education it could get interesting. These are bound to be the two major battlefields of the next election and they have been given to someone on the left of the party.
David Davies as Home Issues though suggests an attempt to out right-wing David Blunkett
The return of a rightist Conservative party may bring what this country needs - a small counter swing to the left! Having a leader in the shape of Michael Howard with his right wing history (poll tax and record unemployment) should prompt the Labour party (new or old) to recognise the importance of social equality and not try to be a sad copy of the Tory party of the 60s and early 70s.
T. Hart, UK
Michael Howard is the acceptable face of an unacceptable party - a throwback to the 1980s when the Tories didn't give a damn about anyone and were proud of it. Now they pretend to be caring in order to get elected. I hope that the British people are not gullible enough to be fooled by this wolf in a dead sheep's clothing.
Gordon Ashworth, England
We've seen the end of John Major, the end of William Hague and the end of Iain Duncan Smith. How long before we see Howard's End?
Howard will at least make the voting public see that there is a choice at the next election. But it is a grim choice: I can't see people voting back in the same people and the same right wing policies they rejected in 1997. The Tories have taken on the characteristics of Medusa: the more leaders they destroy the more the old faces return to the fray.
He probably won't make any difference; he has been chosen simply as an opponent for Tony Blair, not that of a revolutionist who is going to turn this country around. How his he going to adjust the thinking of today's generation who think this country is a sinking ship, but employment wise, cost of living wise, and also criminally this country is irretrievable. I for one will soon be joining the exodus of good minded people from this country and also it to sink taking all its rats with it.
Paul Beaulieu, England
Although Michael Howard was not my first choice for leader of the opposition, his experience in Westminster alone stands him in good stead. He needs to be given the opportunity to put his policies where his mouth is and not be labelled as the poll tax monster before his leadership has even begun in earnest. I was a very different person 10 years ago than I am today and I see no reason to believe that this man is incapable of change. We need to give him the chance to do or die, and not kill him off before he has even taken post.
What difference will Howard make? None whatsoever.
I hope Michael Howard can unite the party in order that once again we might have an effective opposition to the present government.
Michael Forde, UK
The chances of me voting for IDS were slim at best, now that Howard is the leader the chances of me voting for him are non-existent!!
Ironic. For years Labour elected the wrong man. Now the Tories are doing it. No Clarke no Win.
Tim Evans, Japan
The difference will be that Michael Howard's leadership will project an air of Tory confidence and professionalism. The machine is now in the hands of a skilled operator.
If the Tories put a heavyweight team together then Labour will be in trouble. Blair is only as good as the team around him, and unfortunately it's not that good. The Tories have an opportunity here, but Howard needs to bang on about bloated government, EU, Asylum, Taxes, Health, Transport and Education. Labour are very vulnerable in these areas.
There is a thread running through your readers comments that equates the Tories with the over-50's, and of having no social conscience.
If Labour's social conscience is reflected in the worst transport, crime and health situation since WWII then give me the Tories under Michael Howard. He couldn't possibly do worse than Labour.
Malcolm, Dubai, UAE
Sadly, I do not think Michael Howard will make a jot of difference to the decline of the Conservatives as a credible opposition. He lacks the charisma and conviction to attract voters and I don't think he will be able to unite his fragmented party
The problem is not the leader of the Conservative Party. The problem IS the Conservative Party.
Given rising interest rates, spiralling national debt and unions queuing up to go on strike, I think Tony Blair will call the next election at the earliest possible date! Now there is an Opposition Leader who can effectively oppose, the 100 odd Labour MP's with the smallest majorities are going to be looking over their shoulders. And all this before Hutton has reported.
I'm not sure how well Michael Howard or his policies will resonate with the voting public, but (and I say this as a Labour voter) it will be refreshing to see someone who can give Tony Blair a run for his money in the Commons.
I really am not sure about Michael Howard and I say this as a 'natural' Tory but I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He says he has changed and I believe everyone should have a second chance.
Michael Howard's first and biggest hurdle will be to UNITE the Conservative Party once again. What the UK needs is another 'Margaret Thatcher'. I wish him 'all the best', he is going to need it in bucket loads!!
B T, UK
Michael Howard won't make a great difference to the Tory party because he is too rooted in the past. The Tories are in crisis because policy and image wise they are still harking back to the Thatcher years. Thatcher's approach was revolutionary at the time, but times change and so must the Tories. They need a fresh approach and that means fresh blood.
Dave Costello, UK