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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 June, 2003, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
How reshuffle blew off course

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

They never admit it publicly, but prime ministers are notoriously superstitious.

And after the anti-climax-preceded-by-a-shambles that was the Friday 13th reshuffle, it's no surprise.

It is far from clear exactly what Tony Blair was trying to do with his reshuffle - but whatever it was he probably didn't expect the sort of response he got on Friday.

And it is pretty clear that, whatever the prime minister's original plans were, Alan Milburn's shock resignation blew them off course.

The second day of the reshuffle was dominated by rows over the confusion and muddle of the previous day's announcement which had all the hallmarks of a bodge up.

And that was followed by a rapid downgrading of expectations about what was to come in the junior ranks.

Any idea that this was going to be the key area for the shake up was swiftly slapped down by the prime minister's spokesman at the usual morning briefing.

He told journalists, almost gleefully, that all the stuff they had been writing about major changes was way off the mark. And, by golly was he right.

Mammoth yawn

With the exception of the creation of a children's minister and the unsurprising re-appointment of Estelle Morris - a good woman, much liked and quite up to the job of junior arts minister - the lower ranks shake up was a mammoth yawn.

Blair plans ended with a yawn

And it still took all day and most of the early evening to get it all sorted out.

No one will want to play down the significance of the creation of a minister for children with Margaret Hodge in charge.

But there are already fears that, because it is outside cabinet and with a pretty wide brief, it may have about the same impact as that made by previous ministers for women - that is, precious little.

And it is not the prime minister's fault that newspapers got overexcited about the event before hand.

Friday the 13th

But it is perfectly understandable that people, including Labour MPs, were looking for something more radical and coherent than what they actually got.

Equally it is probably a touch unfair to start carping before these changes have had a chance to bed down.

But there is a real prospect here that the only thing that will be remembered about this shake up is the huge constitutional row it landed the prime minister in - unless we learn something else surprising about Mr Milburn.

And, if the worst fears prove accurate, that constitutional row may overshadow the government's wider programme in much the same way the half-finished - and probably never to be finished - Lords' reform did.

Mind you - he was warned about Friday 13th.




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