David Cameron sacrificed an ally he spent years protecting today, as he organised a hard-nosed reshuffle which could see several political big hitters demoted.
Sayeeda Warsi, who Cameron made a baroness when she failed to win election, has been dropped from her role as Tory party chairman.
Meanwhile, Ken Clarke has been demoted from justice secretary to minister without portfolio.
The two moves suggest the prime minister is desperate to throw red meat to Tory backbenchers following damaging rebellions over Europe and House of Lords reform.
Clarke's liberal penal policies irritated the Tory rank-and-file, who have never trusted the former chancellor because of his europhile outlook. Warsi was a constant irritant to Tory MPs because of her off-the-cuff comments in the media.
Tory backbencher Peter Bone commented to the BBC: "All the things I wanted to see - I wanted to see Ken Clark go, to see the party chairman go - have happened. So far, so good."
Writing on Twitter, Warsi wrote: "It's been a privilege and an honour to serve my party as co-chairman."
The decision to sack Warsi came despite her pleas over the weekend for her to keep her job as a means of securing northern votes.
"I'm a woman, I'm not white, I'm from an urban area, I'm from the North, I'm working class – I kind of fit the bill," she said.
"All the groups that we’re aiming for are groups that I'm familiar with."
Grant Shapps, housing minister, is tipped to take over from Warsi, in what is notoriously a thankless role due to interference from Conservative central office.
No 10 confirmed work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and education secretary Michael Gove would remain in their jobs.
Last night, Welsh secretary Cheryl Gillan also changed her Twitter profile, lending credibility to the rumour she would be replaced, probably by David Jones, a backbencher from north Wales.
Gillan's opposition to high-speed rail had made her an akward figure on the front bench.
Andrew Mitchell, the right wing international development secretary, has been invited into the Cameron inner circle by being made chief whip, a position he takes over from Patrick McLoughlin.