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Wednesday, July 28, 1999 Published at 18:40 GMT 19:40 UK

UK Politics

Much ado about nothing

Alastair Campbell: The spin doctor wrongfooted the media

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

Tony Blair's decision not to hold a major Cabinet reshuffle may turn out to be the most radical thing he ever does as prime minister.

He was determined not to be bounced into a shake-up by the media and stood his ground steadfastly.

Alastair Campbell and other Number 10 spin doctors will undoubtedly be laughing up their sleeves because of the confusion that was sown amongst the ranks of the press gallery.

[ image: Mo Mowlam: Widely but wrongly tipped as on her way out the door from the Northern Ireland Office]
Mo Mowlam: Widely but wrongly tipped as on her way out the door from the Northern Ireland Office
They constantly insisted there were no plans for a major reshuffle - but the media simply did not believe it.

July is reshuffle month and everybody expected that the prime minister would follow tradition and clear out his top team before the summer holidays.

Everyone believed that he had to switch Mo Mowlam from Northern Ireland, for example, and that other ministers who had been targeted for their poor performance would be either sacked or shunted off into other departments.

But Dr Mowlam and Health Secretary Frank Dobson threw a spanner into the works when they publicly declared that they did not expect to be moved.

It is now clear they were not jockeying for position, but had already been reassured by the prime minister that - despite the press speculation - he was not planning a "night of the long knives", but effectively postponing his big shake-up until next year.

Number 10 will be delighted at the way they wrong-footed the media and Mr Campbell will undoubtedly taunt members of the press lobby for days to come.

And it is in the nature of New Labour that the traditional way of doing things should be abandoned, including reshuffles.

[ image: Jack Cunningham: Even Labour MPs expected to see the Cabinet
Jack Cunningham: Even Labour MPs expected to see the Cabinet "enforcer" demoted
But Mr Blair will face growing criticism that he has missed an opportunity to clear out some of the deadwood in his Cabinet.

Even his own MPs expected Mr Dobson and Jack Cunningham to be either sacked or moved aside and they will wonder why the prime minister has apparently backed away from taking such difficult decisions.

Others will claim, however, that the prime minister has shown a radical spirit by refusing to be forced into a reshuffle and will expect that the "big one" will come next year when he finally carves out his top team to take Labour into the next general election.

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