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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 January 2007, 18:26 GMT
Reid's leadership bid - or not
Analysis
By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News

So is he or isn't he?

John Reid
John Reid - keeper of the New Labour flame?

When a leading Cabinet minister decides to start the New Year with a wide ranging speech on life after Tony Blair it can only mean one thing can't it?

Particularly when that minister is John Reid, arch Blairite and the only major figure yet to declare his hand in the Labour leadership stakes.

But it may not be quite as simple as that.

Mr Reid's speech, in which he argued that New Labour's flame must not be allowed go out with Mr Blair, did not, in any formal sense at least, mark the start of a leadership campaign.

There was not a single mention of his personal political ambitions in the text.

He also took great care to lavish praise on Gordon Brown, the man still expected to be crowned leader later this year.

He even stepped in to defend Mr Brown from "personal attacks" by the Tories. The Chancellor must be very grateful.

So could he merely have been taking the opportunity to think aloud about future policy and the meaning of New Labour, as his aides insist?

Shrewd

There is certainly vital ground to be won and lost in the battle for Labour's future over the next few months, as the Blair era enters its dying stages.

And Mr Reid - ever the shrewd operator - will know that the best way to retain maximum influence is to keep everyone guessing about his leadership intentions.

Many of his colleagues have gained a platform for themselves by launching deputy leadership bids.

But by departing so far from his ministerial brief - and failing to fall in line with most of his Cabinet colleagues and backing Mr Brown as the next leader - Mr Reid is, arguably, taking things a step further.

Brownite Labour MP George Mudie describes it as "putting down a marker" for a future leadership challenge.

It was even, Mr Mudie suggests, an attempt to provoke a reaction from the Brownites so that Mr Reid - or some other Blairite contender - can ride to the rescue.

'Thatcherite party'

There is no shortage of Labour MPs such as Mr Mudie calling for a "change of direction" when Brown takes over.

"I'm not against change, everything has to change and I do not wish for one moment to go back to where we were in the 80s," he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.

"But if I wanted a Thatcherite government I would have joined the Conservative Party. I don't want a Thatcherite Labour Party."

The newspapers are also full of speculation, fuelled no doubt by briefings from the Brown camp, about a change of tone.

The fear among Blairites such as Mr Reid is not so much that Mr Brown will abandon the New Labour project he helped create but - as the home secretary warns in his speech - that a reinvigorated Conservative Party will steal the initiative.

And that Blairite reforms in health and education - often pushed through in the teeth of Treasury opposition - will simply grind to a halt.

After all, if the New Labour philosophy is "shared by all of us in government," as Mr Reid says - why bother making a speech calling on everyone to carry on being New Labour?

Mr Reid is nothing if not a true believer and he will, no doubt, continue to make speeches like Thursday's whether he finally decides to launch a leadership bid or not.

And continue to keep everyone guessing.




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