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Wednesday, 29 May, 2002, 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
Blair tightens his grip on power
The cabinet after the 2001 election
Few new faces at cabinet table

It may have come a bit early, thanks to Stephen Byers, but this is the reshuffle Tony Blair always intended.

He has broken up the huge department of transport, local government and the regions and handed the poison chalice of transport to capable Brownite Alistair Darling.

First Secretary at the Treasury Paul Boateng
First black face
He has created the first black cabinet minister, Paul Boateng, promoted the youngest and also black MP, David Lammy and even given old warhorse John Prescott a late career boost.

But probably most importantly, the prime minister has significantly tightened his control not only over the government but also Whitehall and Parliament.

By putting his close ally Lord Macdonald into a revamped cabinet office he has, in effect, created a prime minister's office in Whitehall.

Blair's writ

Lord Macdonald's task will be to spread his tentacles into every Whitehall department and report directly to Mr Blair.

Meanwhile, loyalist Lord Bruce Grocott has been made chief whip in the upper House where he will be expected to ensure the Blair writ runs more effectively.

As with previous reshuffles, the top team has been moved around a bit but the names are still essentially the same.

Prime Minister Tony Blair
More control
Downing Street insist this is because the prime minister is generally happy with his top team.

Others, however, suggest it is because all his senior, heavyweight operators are already in the cabinet and there are few outstanding newcomers waiting in the wings.

As a result it is, once again, in the lower ranks where the major changes have taken place to give fresh faces the chance to make their bones.

Blunkett bloodbath

The Home Office has, in particular, seen some sweeping changes as the prime minister focuses attention on the fight against violent crime.

The moves have already been dubbed the "Blunkett bloodbath".

In the past, Mr Blair has shown his willingness to re-appoint ministers previously sacked.

The Millennium Dome
Dome giveaway overshadowed
Harriet Harman and Alun Michael have both been brought back from the backbenches in past reshuffles as has Peter Mandelson - once.

This time the retread is Mike O'Brien, the former home office minister whose disputed phone conversation with Mr Mandelson over the Hinduja affair was at the centre of that controversy.

Observers have noticed that, while Mr O'Brien has been re-admitted to the frontbench, Mr Mandelson has not been allowed a second comeback.

That may not be a sign that the prime minister accepts his version of events over the "cash for passports" affair, but it certainly shows Mr O'Brien has served his time.

Finally, of course, there is the spin. Mr Byers may have gone but, as far as burying bad news goes, a reshuffle is far too good an opportunity to miss.

And on Wednesday it was the announcement giving away the millennium dome. Some things never change.

The BBC's Nick Robinson
"What this is the start of, in my view, is a prime minister's department"

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Byers resignation

Main players


See also:

29 May 02 | UK Politics
29 May 02 | UK Politics
29 May 02 | UK Politics

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