The Times: Cameron puts Boris Johnson's brother into No. 10

David Cameron has parachuted Boris Johnson's brother into the heart of Downing Street as part of a shake-up to strengthen the No 10 machine and reach out to Tory malcontents.

Jo Johnson, younger brother of the London Mayor and a fellow Old Etonian, is to head the Downing Street policy unit and harden Tory thinking in the run-up to the next election.

The appointment of the Orpington MP is one of a series of moves designed to build bridges with the Prime Minister's backbench critics and to capitalise on the legacy of Margaret Thatcher.

They include: A new Tory advisory board on policy made up of some of the parliamentary party's biggest thinkers, and leading rebels. It includes Peter Lilley, who served in Mrs Thatcher's last Cabinet; Writing to more than 50 Tory MPs over the death of Baroness Thatcher;  Preparing for a July reshuffle to promote figures from the Thatcherite Right, such as Michael Fallon, the Business and Energy Minister.

The eye-catching appointment of Mr Johnson, the brother of one of Mr Cameron's chief rivals for the affections of Tory supporters, will take many MPs by surprise.

Allies of the Prime Minister praised the strong policy background of the former financial journalist, whose appointment increases the number of Old Etonians in Mr Cameron's inner circle to four. "He is being appointed on merit," one said.

Downing Street hopes that any criticism surrounding the appointment of another Old Etonian will be balanced by the lines of communication that he is promising to open up with his backbench MPs through the new policy board.

It is unusual for an MP to be selected to head the policy unit. Equally unusually, Mr Johnson will be made a minister and given a berth in the Cabinet Office.

The policy unit has been led for the past 18 months by a civil servant — a source of deep irritation to Tory MPs, who have criticised Mr Cameron for governing with insufficient attention to grassroot priorities. Mr Johnson's role will lead to a more "Thatcher-style traditional policy unit" to drive ideas throughout government.

He will be bolstered by the new policy board of MPs, designed to placate Tory critics who complain that the Prime Minister does not listen to them.It will include Jesse Norman and George Eustice, who led backbench revolts over an elected House of Lords and Leveson reforms of the press, as well as Mr Lilley. Other appointees are Jane Ellison, Paul Uppal, Nick Gibb, Margot James and Jake Berry.

It also emerged yesterday that Mr Cameron has sent typed letters with hand-written notes to every Conservative MP that spoke in the Commons after Lady Thatcher's death.

The letters are part of a wider "Thatcher effect" that has seen Mr Cameron attempt to capitalise on the legacy of the former Prime Minister and which has helped to calm restive Conservatives.

A key driver of the new mood in the Tory Party is Lynton Crosby, the Australian strategist who is credited with giving Mr Cameron a sharper focus on core issues such as welfare reform, as well as more ruthless attack lines on Labour. It is understood that he recently expressed incredulity that the criticism of Ed Miliband in Downing Street was that his policies were vague. "They should go after him for being left wing," he said.

Mr Cameron branded Labour "the welfare party" yesterday as he used Prime Minister's Questions to make political mileage out of Labour opposition to the Government's benefit curbs.

The Prime Minister is expected to spend more time focusing on the economy and welfare. The Times reported this week that he has excluded from next month's Queen's Speech his pledge to legislate for permanently higher levels of overseas aid spending. He is also expected to drop his proposals for minimum alcohol pricing.

Right-wing Tory MPs said that Mr Cameron finally appeared to be learning the correct lessons from the Thatcher era. "He was once ambivalent about her. He didn't want to turn up at the same time as her at functions," one said. "I sense there has been a genuine reflection on the magnitude of her achievement. She was a great leader, driven by principle. This is what No 10 has realised won three elections."

Another figure credited with the switch is John Hayes, a Cameron supporter from the Right who moved from the Energy Department to the Cabinet Office so that he could reach out to Conservative MPs on behalf of the Prime Minister.

The effect has been to quell "leadership chatter" that was threatening to destabilise Mr Cameron. "People realise he is the only game in town," said one critic.

Backbenchers, who have complained that Mr Cameron fails to devote enough time to their concerns, have often compared him unfavourably to Lady Thatcher, who would habitually send handwritten notes to MPs. Mr Cameron sent 53 letters to those who spoke when Parliament was recalled after her death, many of whom happen to be among his most persistent critics.

In the letter, he thanked them for taking part in the debate and lauded Lady Thatcher for her achievements.

"The letter was a very nice touch," said one. "He's reaching out, there's no doubt about that. And he needs to."

The plaudits came with warnings. "I'm warming to him," said one MP. "I could go cold again, because sometimes he does things that irritate me. But he's in a good place."