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Last Updated: Friday, 6 May 2005, 22:23 GMT 23:23 UK
'Bloodless' reshuffle reflects new Blair

By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Flowers being delivered to Downing Street
Mr Blair may have won, but is he celebrating his reduced majority?

Probably nothing better demonstrates the changed nature of Tony Blair's premiership than his reshuffle.

He may have displayed his customary loyalty to fallen friends by bringing David Blunkett back into government with a prominent job.

But there was none of the axe wielding that had been widely predicted before the election.

The big jobs - chancellor, foreign and home secretaries - remain unchanged.

However, Mr Blair - apparently in consultation with Mr Brown - still had room to revamp Whitehall departments and focus his reshuffle on the big issues he wants to address in his third term.

Brown allies

Near the top of that agenda is tackling the looming pensions crisis and that job has been given to a delighted David Blunkett who, like Peter Mandelson before him, has been deemed to have paid the price for his errors.

The crucial job as Europe minister has been given to rising Brownite Douglas Alexander.

With Britain about to take over the presidency of the EU and the possible referendum on the constitution on the horizon, this is a vital portfolio.

Mr Blair relied hugely on Mr Brown during the election - some are already claiming the chancellor won it for the prime minister

Other big jobs have been given to Alan Johnson - tasked with the controversial energy review in a revamped department of trade and industry - and David Milliband in charge of a new brief of communities and local government.

The wide reshuffle saw some key Brown allies promoted and the now near traditional new job for John Reid - this time to the one he really wanted all along, as defence secretary.

Much criticised Geoff Hoon has vacated the ministry of defence to become leader of the Commons.

Many had expected him to be dropped, but Mr Blair has never been good at that.

Hands tied

Before the election there had been extravagant suggestions that a strengthened prime minister would finally act to sack or move his leadership rival, Chancellor Gordon Brown.

In fact, Mr Blair relied hugely on Mr Brown during the election - some are already claiming the chancellor won it for the prime minister.

And with speculation now rife that Mr Brown will take over the reins of power sooner rather than later, the prime minister had no option but to keep him.

Mr Blunkett's style has previously angered many on his own side for being populist, illiberal and even right wing

His massively reduced majority also meant his hands were tied in other areas as he needs to display a more inclusive attitude towards his parliamentary party.

That is an attitude he has already underlined with talk of "I, we, the government" in place of the old "I".

He certainly cannot afford to upset colleagues and is already likely to be forced to abandon some of his more radical plans for his third term for fear he will no longer be able to bulldoze them through the Commons.

As it is, Mr Blunkett's return will be controversial with some in the Labour party.

Blunkett anger

They claim it shows that, despite his words on re-entering Downing Street, the prime minister has not listened and not learned.

There is still anger in some quarters at the way Mr Blair praised Mr Blunkett, and promised to bring him back as soon as he could on the day the former home secretary was forced to resign over the nanny's visa row and his misuse of parliamentary allowances.

And, of course, Mr Blunkett's style has previously angered many on his own side for being populist, illiberal and even right wing.

Others, however, believe Mr Blunkett has served his time, remained loyal to the government and deserves a break.

They believe his greatest sin was one of purely human dimensions - falling in love - and that he has already been battered by the fight to win access to the child he had with the married woman, Kimberly Quinn, at the centre of his fall.

They also claim he is one of the few Labour frontbenchers who had the popular touch and was liked by voters.

Wide-scale reshuffle

Finally, Tony Blair needs friends like Mr Blunkett around him more than ever now his authority has been weakened by the election result.

It may seem odd to suggest a prime minister with a majority of almost 70 could be weak - but for this prime minister, who is used to getting his own way, backed by huge majorities, that is exactly where he stands.

Despite that, he has managed a surprisingly wide-scale reshuffle, although it is probably a far less political one than may have been the case had he won a bigger majority.

This one seems designed to get specific jobs done.


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