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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 May, 2005, 08:25 GMT 09:25 UK
Blair's defiant reshuffle message
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

If Tony Blair had wanted to send a defiant message to his rebellious backbenchers he has chosen a pretty effective way of doing it with his reshuffle of the lower ranks.

Tony Blair
Mr Blair has put the finishing touches to his government
The appointment of unelected adviser Andrew Adonis to the department of education - and, as a result, the House of Lords - and the rehabilitation of fallen ex-minister Beverly Hughes are signs of a prime minister attempting to prove just who is the boss.

And, just as with the Cabinet changes, they underline his stated determination to finally get the job of reform of the public services done, presumably before he contemplates resignation.

He had already indicated his seriousness over pensions reform with David Blunkett's rehabilitation to work and pensions secretary.

There's nothing that upsets backbenchers more than to see newcomers leaping straight on to the frontbench without paying their dues

He has further underlined that with key new appointments to that department, specifically by bringing back popular peer Lord Hunt, who quit over the war. His return could also be seen as a move towards reconciliation with some of his rebels.

But Mr Blair also put key figures in other posts - Malcolm Wicks will help examine the possibility of a difficult return to a nuclear energy policy, while Ms Hughes will be responsible for tackling the welfare of children.

The controversial appointment of Mr Adonis is another sign the prime minister intends to continue his radical reforms in schools - to the dismay of many on the backbenches.

Top up fees

And there is plenty of room elsewhere for controversy with the appointment of Lord Drayson, a major party donor, to the ministry of defence and former Tory Shaun Woodward to Northern Ireland.

The moves may not be deliberately calculated to provoke his dissidents, but they will almost certainly have that effect anyway.

The most controversial appointments are undoubtedly those of Mr Adonis and Ms Hughes.

Beverley Hughes and David Blunkett
Hughes worked with Blunkett before resigning
Mr Adonis is the architect of much of the prime minister's existing education policies, particularly top up fees, and, for just that reason, is deeply distrusted by the left.

Prime ministers often appoint favourites by making them peers, so avoiding the uncertainty of election.

But it is never a popular move and, at a time when Mr Blair is already facing criticisms, it will only add to the concerns. Even if, as suggested, this was a compromise after Mr Blair wanted to offer him a more senior post.

The appointment of Ms Hughes, a close friend of David Blunkett who she served under in the Home Office, will also anger those who believe Mr Blair is too ready to forgive his friends of wrongdoing.

Well balanced

There have already been suggestions that Mr Blunkett's re-appointment after the briefest of periods outside government flew in the face of Mr Blair's pledge he had listened and learned during the bruising election campaign.

Elsewhere, in a wide-ranging shuffle of the pack, Mr Blair promoted a sprinkling of both Blairites and Brownites, offering as pretty well balanced team as far as those two camps are concerned - little grist to the mill of those looking for a continuing turf war.

But there was nothing for any of the new intake such as Gordon Brown's former aide and close friend Ed Balls.

They probably need - and may even have requested - time to bed down as simple MPs first.

And there's nothing that upsets backbenchers more than to see newcomers leaping straight on to the frontbench without paying their dues.

All this came as the prime minister faced demands for him to quit sooner rather than later by a number of MPs.

Mr Blair's allies have dismissed them as coming from "the usual suspects" and insist that he fully intends to serve a full third term, as he has pledged.

And this reshuffle, though possibly tempered to some degree by a desire not to unnecessarily provoke dissent, also seems designed to suggest a prime minister as firmly in control of his government as ever.

It is a difficult line to walk and only time will tell if Mr Blair has succeeded in treading it.





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