Post-war reshuffle will enable Blair to reward loyal MPs
By Toby Helm, Chief Political Correspondent
(Filed: 28/03/2003)

Cabinet ministers are expecting Tony Blair to carry out a substantial
post-war reshuffle in which he will reward ministers who have been most
loyal to him over the Iraq crisis.

They believe that the Prime Minister will also take the opportunity to
promote several of Labour's rising stars from junior government ranks in
an attempt to revitalise the Government after its most traumatic period
since the party came to power.

Mr Blair has still to replace Robin Cook, who resigned as the leader of
the House last week in protest at Mr Blair's policy on Iraq. Normally
vacancies are filled within 24 hours.

Ministers now believe that Mr Blair is holding off until he has decided
on wider changes and that he will bring forward a mid-term reshuffle
that would have been due towards the end of this year.

Successors have also yet to be found for two other ministers who stepped
down over Iraq - John Denham, who quit as minister of state at the Home
Office and Lord Hunt who resigned as parliamentary under-secretary of
state at the Department of Health.

"The view is that he will do it all at the same time, soon after the
war," said one Cabinet minister. "With this reshuffle there is a new
factor. He knows he owes a debt to people - those who backed him when it

The fashionable opinion inside government is that Mr Blair will oust
Clare Short, the International Development Secretary, because of her
criticism of his conduct of the Iraq crisis. The counter view is that,
with Mr Cook already positioning himself as a future leader of
discontented MPs on the centre-Left, Mr Blair will keep her in the
Cabinet to limit the problems from the back benches.

The burning question is whether Mr Blair would dare to remove Gordon
Brown as Chancellor following tensions between the two men over the euro
and a range of domestic policy issues.

A direct swap between Mr Brown and Jack Straw, the ultra-loyal Foreign
Secretary, to whom Mr Blair feels indebted, has been rumoured.

Movement in the Cabinet is more likely to be in the middle ranks, with
Mr Blair rewarding those who have been unstinting in their public
backing for him over Iraq. John Reid, the party chairman, is being
tipped for promotion to Leader of the House, while Peter Hain, the Welsh
Secretary, is thought likely to succeed Mr Reid.

Other Cabinet ministers who are said to have impressed Mr Blair include
Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, David Blunkett, the Home Secretary,
and Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary. They are thought more likely to
be rewarded with more power in Cabinet committees.

Lower ranking ministers who are being tipped for possible elevation to
the Cabinet include ministers of state Beverley Hughes at the Home
Office, Jacqui Smith at the Department of Health and David Miliband at
the Department for Education and Skills.

Eric Forth, the shadow Leader of the Commons, pressed yesterday for the
Government to make an announcement about a replacement for Mr Cook. He
said the delay in making an appointment showed Mr Blair's lack of
respect for Parliament.