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     Clarke axed as Blair begins reshuffle  <<back  next>>

Tony Blair is today attempting to reassert his authority by pressing ahead with a long-delayed cabinet reshuffle.

The prime minister will seek to refocus attention away from Labour's poor performance in the local elections by shaking up his team of ministers.

Downing Street confirmed on Friday that a reshuffle was under way.

The first appointments saw Jack Straw depart from the Foreign Office. He is expected to be made leader of the House in place of Geoff Hoon.

His job is to be split between Hoon, who becomes secretary of state for Europe and another senior minister.

Charles Clarke leaves the Home Office to return to the backbenches.

A grim-looking John Prescott arrived early on Friday morning, ignoring calls from the waiting media as he entered Number 10.

Second to arrive was foreign secretary Jack Straw, who was followed by Labour Party chairman Ian McCartney.

The deputy prime minister appears set to lose out, according to reports.

While he will remain deputy prime minister, he appears set to lose control of the ODPM.

Prescott's number two, David Miliband, already in the cabinet, is expected to take over his policy responsibilities for housing and local government.

The reshuffle comes as a trio of key 'delivery' ministers remain under pressure.

Lord chancellor Lord Falconer said last night that there was legitimate public concern over the department.

Patricia Hewitt's handling of the NHS funding crisis - and her hostile reception at two union conferences - has also raised questions over her grip on the Department of Health.

And education secretary Ruth Kelly, while out of the headlines of late, remains damaged by Labour splits over school reform and the earlier controversy over paedophiles in schools.

Culture secretary Tessa Jowell, meanwhile, has also been weakened by rows over the disclosure of her estranged husband's financial dealings.

More successful ministers of late have included: work and pensions secretary John Hutton, praised for his handling of incapacity benefit reform; trade secretary Alan Johnson, who has dealt with the fallout of the latest motoring industry woes; and Alistair Darling who has been a safe pair of hands at transport.

International development secretary Hilary Benn could also be set for a move up if the reshuffle turns out to be wide-ranging in nature.

Home Office minister Hazel Blears is set to enter the cabinet, as could schools minister Jacqui Smith, while Cabinet Office minister Jim Murphy could be rewarded for his stewarding of the department in the absence of a secretary of state since November.

The reshuffle could also prove to be Blair's last, giving him a final opportunity to promote key supporters ahead of a possible Gordon Brown premiership.

The middle ranks of the government could see a more extensive shake-up in an attempt to bring on new talent.

5 May 2006

 Last updated: 05/05/2006 10:44:00



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