Saturday, May 06, 2006

Blair's Last Throw of the Dice

The Cabinet reshuffle was described by Anthony Howard on Radio 4 this morning as “drab” (too many old faces) and “a last throw that hasn’t worked”. Like Blair’s other re-shuffles it looks botched. Clarke has gone (after refusing demotion). Straw is demoted: perhaps for being “off message” on Iran (it seems the White House phoned Blair to complain) perhaps for some other transgression. Both have been loyal to Blair in the past; neither has any reason to be so in the future. Prescott – incredibly – has been stripped of his departmental responsibilities but stays in the Cabinet with salary and perks. The tabloids will have a field-day with this; can he really survive (and has he no pride)? And I wonder what odds Ladbrokes would have given on Margaret Beckett as Foreign Secretary last week? It is an astonishing appointment. It was also botched: it seems the original intention was that she share the job with Geoff (“Buff”) Hoon, but she refused, and instead he has been made Europe Minister (allowed to attend Cabinet but not as a member, which in effect, is a demotion). David Miliband and Douglas Alexander have been promoted to Cabinet rank, a long expected move. The interesting appointment is the peripatetic John Reid at the Home Office, it was suggested on Radio 4 (I can’t remember whether by Howard or someone else) that he is being “groomed” as a rival alternative leader to Brown and that Blair is “trying to set up” a leadership contest. The appointment of the robotic apparatchik Hazel Blears as Minister without Portfolio and party chairman and Jacqui Smith as Chief Whip, both Blairites, both promoted to Cabinet, is also a slap in the face to Brown and a sign that Blair intends to put up a fight.


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