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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 September, 2004, 21:10 GMT 22:10 UK
Blair wins test of authority
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

If this messy Cabinet reshuffle was the test of strength between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown that most believe it was, then there could only ever have been one outcome.

Prime ministers have to prevail under these circumstances. Capitulation is not an option.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown
Eyes will be on how Mr Brown reacts
The alternative is to remain in power as a lame duck, the captive of more powerful forces.

So, after days of damaging speculation over the claimed rift between the prime minister and his chancellor over the appointment of Alan Milburn, Mr Blair has emerged the inevitable victor.

Indeed, the more it was suggested that Mr Brown was determined not to see Mr Milburn in a powerful new position - particularly one he believed stamped all over his patch - the more certain it was the prime minister had to give his old friend a job.

Election focus

It even appears Mr Blair dismissed any thought of a compromise aimed at taking the sting out of the appointment for Mr Brown.

It is suggested his decision may have been in the face of an insistence from Mr Milburn that he wanted a proper job in which he could see off any challenges from the chancellor to his power over policy making.

As health secretary in his previous cabinet career, Mr Milburn saw his radical proposals for foundation hospitals largely neutered by Mr Brown and he is determined not to let that happen again.

It certainly seems likely the feud between the Brown and Blair camps in Westminster will only escalate
Now he has been given what, in the run up to a general election, must be one of the most important and wide-ranging jobs in the government.

He will, in effect, be writing that election manifesto. It is exactly the sort of role he wanted.

So where does that leave Gordon Brown, whose worst fears appear to have been realised?

In the first place, he will undoubtedly insist he is happy with the appointment and suggest that he stopped Mr Milburn getting the job of Labour Party chairman - allegedly the prime minister's first choice.

But that may prove little comfort. It all depends on just how far Mr Milburn will be allowed to roam.


If, as many in the Brown camp fear, he has been given carte blanche by Mr Blair to take on the chancellor, that could prove a major setback for Mr Brown.

Alan Milburn
Mr Milburn quit as health secretary last year

And it is to No 11 Downing Street that all eyes will now turn, eager to see just how the chancellor reacts.

This is where the gloss might eventually come off the prime minister's victory.

If the chancellor is so incensed he decides to act against Mr Blair, or engages in a lengthy guerrilla war with Mr Milburn, it could seriously damage Labour in the run up to the election.

Rival briefings

It certainly seems likely the feud between the Brown and Blair camps in Westminster will only escalate in the wake of this move.

And, while the appointment of Alan Johnson as the new work and pensions secretary is widely seen as a good move, this reshuffle has been far from an overwhelming success.

It was postponed from the summer after speculation and feuding over an appointment for ex-minister Peter Mandelson.

Then, when it was put back on track at the start of the new season, it immediately descended into briefing and counter briefing by the rival camps.

Redwood's return

The Tories, needless to say, seized on all this in an attempt to embarrass the prime minister.

Michael Howard executed his own reshuffle without any feuds and claimed Mr Blair's problems proved he was not in control of his own government.

However, many in Westminster were baffled by Mr Howard's timing, claiming his reshuffle would be entirely overshadowed.

There was also some criticism of his attempt to claim he had refreshed his team when he had promoted faces from the past like John Redwood and Nicholas Soames.

Still, he did it without any blood letting - something it is far too early to claim about Mr Blair's changes.

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