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 Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
The last straw for Byers
Stephen Byers
Mr Byers seems to have caught the last train home

Was it the latest revelation about his role in the decision to allow porn merchant and Labour donor Richard Desmond to take over the Daily Express?

Was it the savaging he and his policies received at the hands of the influential transport select committee?
Despite the universal belief he was already finished, it still came as a surprise

Or was it the almost daily newspaper headlines branding him a liar - without even any qualifying quote marks?

Whatever it was, something has finally broken Stephen Byers' previously dogged determination to hold onto his job at all costs.

And, despite the universal belief he was already finished, it still came as a surprise.

The immediate thought is that Tony Blair has finally run out of patience with his minister and decided to sack him.

But that still leaves the question of why it took the prime minister so long and what has suddenly changed his mind - surely there can't be something else looming.

Bad judgement?

It is possible, as is claimed, that Mr Byers simply decided like others before him, that the intense focus on him was getting in the way of him doing his job effectively and damaging the government.

But if that is the case it also seems to have taken an inordinately long time to dawn on him.

It also leaves the question mark over Mr Blair's judgement in failing to sack him in the first place.

Tony Blair
Mr Blair's judgement is now under question
It was always believed that the prime minister saw "the Byers issue" as a battle between New Labour and the media - and there was no way he was going to give in to press demands for his head.

That may have held if there had only been the initial row over Jo "bury the bad news" Moore.

But the accusations and revelations came on an almost weekly or even daily basis, making his position increasingly untenable.

The hand of Campbell?

What will probably surprise no one, however, is the manner of his going.

He handled his resignation from the cabinet in the same way he handled his job - with both eyes on how to spin it.

In a move that had the fingerprints of chief spin doctor Alastair Campbell all over it, he waited until the Commons was in recess, when MPs were away in their constituencies or on holiday.

It was also a time when there can be no Commons debate on his resignation.

That will infuriate MPs on all sides of the House who will see it as typical of his behaviour during his time in government.

The question that now remains is whether he has left it all too late.

His past activities have already damaged the Labour party and even Tony Blair's personal standing.

Who's next?

Voters were already unimpressed with most politicians and there has been a widespread growth in the belief that "they are all the same" - that is, untrustworthy and deceitful.

Mr Byers' behaviour over many months has reinforced that impression and many believe the drip, drip effect has been hugely corrosive on the entire political class.

And his detractors will have noticed that he has still found it impossible to actually apologise for any of his misdemeanours.

Finally, Tony Blair is now left with the task of finding a suitably heavyweight and imaginative minister to step into the job as transport secretary.

Whoever replaces Mr Byers, and Labour party chairman Charles Clarke is heading the field, he will need to adopt an entirely different approach to running a department than his predecessor.


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28 May 02 | Politics
26 May 02 | Politics
07 May 02 | Politics
28 May 02 | Politics
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