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Tuesday, 12 October, 1999, 08:05 GMT 09:05 UK
Cunningham's long goodbye
Jack Cunningham (right) with some of his former ministerial colleagues
The departure of Jack Cunningham from Labour's top team has been predicted since even before the party won the 1997 general election.

Cabinet reshuffle
Forecasts of the MP for Copeland's "resignation" from Labour's frontbench had become a staple feature of every reshuffle in recent years - so much so that when the real thing actually happened on Monday, it almost came as a surprise.

But only almost. Mr Cunningham, who was the Cabinet "enforcer", had over the years developed an unenviable reputation as "Junket Jack".

He appeared - to the press, certainly - to enjoy the good things in life, from pricey hotels for official visits, expensive furniture for his ministerial offices, and flying round the globe in comfortable style.

When Prime Minister Tony Blair moved into Downing Street after winning the election, Mr Cunningham was one of the few people available to him with previous ministerial experience.

Survivor from a different era

Mr Cunningham, 60, served as a PPS to James Callaghan when he was foreign secretary between 1974 and 1976, before being appointed junior energy minister - a post he held until Margaret (now Lady) Thatcher and the Conservatives swept to power in 1979.

Mr Blair put him in his first cabinet as agriculture minister - seen as a last-chance posting following what was widely seen as an unimpressive stint as shadow National Heritage secretary.

It was a tricky time to have the job, given the long-running crisis over BSE and beef. He vowed he would act as the consumers' champion, but ran into accusations of "nannying" when he introduced the ban on beef-on-the-bone.

Westminster watchers tipped him to be dropped from the cabinet at the first reshuffle. Instead the prime minister surprised everyone by giving Mr Cunningham the much-hyped "enforcer" role, originally expected to go to Peter Mandelson.

The job, described informally as being "minister for the Today programme", was a cross-departmental co-ordination role - making sure, as one of his colleagues once put it, that ministers were "all singing from the same song-sheet".

No stranger to criticism

Jack Cunningham has found himself labouring under the nickname of "Junket Jack"
A stalwart of Labour's right wing, in the 18 years of Tory rule that followed the defeat of the Callaghan government, Mr Cunningham served in a range of frontbench roles after winning election to the shadow cabinet in 1983: environment, National Heritage, energy, foreign affairs and trade and industry.

He was no stranger to criticism over clashing interests. It wasn't long before he won the nickname "nuclear Jack" within Labour for his stance towards nuclear energy - the Sellafield nuclear plant was in his constituency, and a significant employer of local voters.

His appointment as agriculture minister raised some eyebrows, due to his consultancy links up to the point of the election with a number of agri-business companies. Before entering the Commons, he was a research chemist.

Mr Cunningham was educated at Jarrow Grammar School and Bede College, Durham University.

Before becoming the MP for Whitehaven in 1970 (the constituency was renamed Copeland in 1983), he was a full-time officer with the General and Municipal Workers' Union and a research fellow at Durham University.

Mr Cunningham is married with one son and two daughters.

See also:

18 Jan 99 | UK Politics
18 Jan 99 | UK Politics
12 Oct 99 | Cabinet Reshuffle
19 Jun 99 | UK Politics
11 Oct 99 | UK Politics
11 Oct 99 | UK Politics
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