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Wednesday, 29 May, 2002, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Darling takes on transport challenge
Alistair Darling is the new transport secretary, replacing Stephen Byers who quit his job on Tuesday.

Mr Darling's successor at the department of work and pensions is Andrew Smith, who leaves his job as chief secretary to the Treasury.

I'm very much looking forward to my new job

Alistair Darling
Mr Byers left his cabinet post after months of pressure, saying his continued presence "damaged" the government.

The transport department's top civil servant, Sir Richard Mottram, is also being moved although he gets a new job as permanent secretary at work and pensions.

Mr Darling will only take over the transport side of Mr Byers' portfolio while the regional aspects of the job will be given to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

Financial Secretary Paul Boateng will be the first black Cabinet minister as the new Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

All change

News of his appointment was hailed by the Commission for Racial Equality chairman Gurbux Singh.

He said: "It is very important to increase ethnic minority representation at all levels of British politics."

Dome minister Lord Falconer, meanwhile, goes to the Home Office where he will be in charge of criminal justice.

Paul Boateng
Mr Boateng continues his steady rise in government
David Miliband has been appointed Schools Minister to replace Stephen Timms who becomes a Minister of State at the Department of Trade and Industry.

Mr Darling is widely regarded as a safe pair of hands - much needed at the troubled transport department.

As he arrived at his new department shortly after being appointed Mr Darling said: "I'm very much looking forward to my new job, thank you very much."

The cabinet reshuffle comes amid assertions by Mr Byers that his demise was brought about by a combination of mishandled spin doctors and vengeful Railtrack shareholders in the City.

Mr Blair - who has stood by Mr Byers as allegations against him mounted up - said he "understood and respected" his decision.

Misplaced loyalty?

In an interview in Wednesday's Guardian newspaper, Mr Byers admitted he might not have become such a media target if he had persuaded his spin doctor, Jo Moore, to resign sooner.

He supported her after her controversial "good time to bury bad news" e-mail on 11 September, but said with "hindsight" he should have taken swifter action.

Alastair Darling
Mr Darling: Regarded as a safe pair of hands
Alistair Darling
  • MP for Edinburgh Central since 1987
  • Work and Pensions Secretary 1998-2002
  • Chief Secretary to the Treasury 1996-97
  • A former solicitor and advocate, he is married with two children

  • He said: "That was an issue which led the media to scrutinise in far more detail my conduct.

    "Also there was a major political decision in relation to Railtrack, which meant you had a group of vested interests, including the Tory party, but also some of their friends in the City, who launched the most hostile attack."

    Mr Byers announced his resignation at a hastily-arranged news conference at 10 Downing Street on Tuesday.

    He insisted he had always tried to "behave honourably", adding "the people that know me best know I am not a liar".

    'Political blunders'

    In a statement, Mr Blair said he believed much of the criticism of Mr Byers had been "unfair".

    On BBC Radio 4's Today programme Alan Milburn insisted that his long-time friend and ally had got the big decisions right.

    The health secretary said Mr Byers had begun to discuss resigning some months ago but the last weekend had proved the final straw.

    Stephen Byers
    Mr Byers put an end to months of pressure
    He added: "The one thing I know with 100% certainty about Steve Byers is he's not a liar ... on the big policy decisions he got them right."

    Mr Byers faced a string of allegations that he lied to Parliament over an internal feud in the transport department press office - all of which he denied.

    'Political judgement'

    An MPs' report published at the weekend also branded his 10-year transport plan "incomprehensible".

    Mr Byers admitted to The Guardian that his accident-prone record since taking over from John Prescott almost exactly a year ago had made him too much of a damaging "distraction" for the government.

    Although he added that he could have taken the personal criticism "for the greater good" but the attention he was getting was damaging the government.

    "That was my political judgement,'' he said.

    The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
    "Friends of Mr Darling speak warmly of his abilities"
    Transport Secretary Alistair Darling
    "I am determined to make improvements year on year"
    Shadow transport secretary Theresa May
    "He has inherited quite a mess"

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