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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 June, 2003, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
Analysis: Why Milburn quit

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Milburn was tipped as future leader
This could be a first in modern politics. A minister leaving to spend time with his family - and meaning it.

Over recent years that phrase has come to mean just about anything except what it actually says.

But Health Secretary Alan Milburn appears to mean precisely what he says.

He is missing his children growing up and it has come down to a stark choice between his career - which was still patently on the up and up - and his family.

"It is not a political decision.....It is entirely personal," he says in his resignation letter. And why should that be doubted?

Anyone with young children will instantly recognise his dilemma and sympathise with his decision.

And only he and his family know just how stressful it had become for him to maintain a proper family life while spending the vast majority of his time away from home.

Dark days

None the less, his statement has stunned Westminster and, inevitably, sparked any amount of speculation.

Is he worried the hugely-controversial NHS reforms were about to engulf him and cast a shadow over his future career?

Could he still see himself as a future leadership contender, perhaps challenging Gordon Brown and others when the prime minister eventually stands down?
It was certainly widely believed that he was looking for a move out of the department of health.

Has he decided to return to the backbenches to avoid being tarnished by a government that, he may have decided, is entering its dark days?

Could he still see himself as a future leadership contender, perhaps challenging Gordon Brown and others when the prime minister eventually stands down?

Or was he up to no good in his private life - although he insisted in interviews after his resignation announcement that, while there would be speculation about "political, sexual and financial" matters, they were not right, but he accepted he would have to live with them.

What is abundantly clear is that he was not sacked, about to be demoted or under any sort of cloud. Far from it.

Healthy attitude

He was seen as a rising star, a true Blairite and one of the more able, confident and relaxed ministers.

There are plenty in the Commons, however, who are ready to believe that Mr Milburn, like former Education Secretary Estelle Morris before him, is signalling a new, more healthy attitude towards politics.

Ms Morris went declaring she accepted she was not up to the job and no longer enjoyed it.

Her refreshing honesty won her admiration and respect.

Mr Milburn was certainly up to the job, but has declared he puts his family first.

Tony Blair will be genuinely dismayed to have lost a true loyalist.

And he may even fear that the move will be interpreted as a sign of dissatisfaction with the government's record and direction.

More particularly he will fear it will be interpreted as frustration at the fact that Gordon Brown is winning the internal battle over how resourcing of the NHS is handled.

Quite separately, Mr Milburn's decision could have significant consequences for politics as a whole if it means family life is given a new emphasis.

Virtually everyone believes that would only be to the good.

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