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Friday, 4 February, 2000, 20:49 GMT
Labour calls on the psychiatrist

By BBC Scotland's Westminster Correspondent David Porter

Tony Blair's government is to get some professional psychiatric help.

Her Majesty's Armed Forces are now relying on the services of a trained psychiatrist to help formulate policy.

He is the latest weapon designed to ensure that Britain can repel potentially hostile foreign invaders from our borders.

The psychiatrist in question is Dr Lewis Moonie, the Labour MP for Kirkcaldy. This week he was promoted to the position of Junior Defence Minister.

Dr Moonie Dr Moonie: Man of Mystery
It followed the resignation of Peter Kilfoyle, the Labour MP for Liverpool.

He metaphorically "fell on his sword" after making it known that he felt the UK Government was no longer concentrating sufficiently on the interests and concerns of its core supporters.

In short, the accusation was that Tony Blair was more interested in "middle England" than its traditional heartlands of the north, Wales and Scotland.

Not surprisingly, Downing Street was keen to play down talk of the resignation. They quickly announced that Mr Kilfoyle's replacement would be Dr Moonie.

Low profile

But the press release was hardly enlightening. In the section ''Notes for Editors'', the only information given was a brief one line sentence: ''Dr Lewis Moonie has been the member for Kirkcaldy since June 1987'..." Those wanting to find out more about the government's newest minister would have to dig a bit deeper.

It is a huge understatement to say Dr Moonie keeps a low profile. He is not one of those MPs who bombards journalists with press releases or his opinions. He rarely asks questions in the Commons and the title ''rent-a-quote MP'' would be better attached to almost anyone rather than Dr Moonie.

Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle: Backbench role
He entered the Commons in 1987, serving a 13-year apprenticeship as a backbencher.

He used his time to learn his new trade, sitting on a number of select committees.

Prior to that, he studied medicine at the universities of St Andrews and Edinburgh and worked in clinical pharmacology and psychiatry.

Like Chancellor Gordon Brown he is a Raith Rovers fan.

Friends say he is very bright and dismiss claims that he is lazy.

One put it this way: "The trouble with Lewis is that he can do in two days what takes others six."

In keeping with his low profile, the new Under Secretary for Defence was not doing media interviews this week.

There was not even a photocall of the new minister at his desk studying the copious defence briefs. Instead, he preferred to immerse himself in his new job privately.

A sharper contrast could not have been drawn with Michael Portillo.

Gordon Brown Gordon Brown: Chancellor
He returned to frontline politics as Shadow Chancellor just over 60 days after returning to Westminster in a blaze of publicity.

The shadow cabinet reshuffle makes Mr Portillo an unofficial deputy to Mr Hague and ties the two men's fortunes together until the general election.

Not for Mr Portillo the media reticence of Dr Moonie. The man known at Westminster as the ''Quiff'' was bounding from studio to studio to carry out TV and radio interviews as though his life depended on it.

Two days into his new job, he faced Mr Brown in the Commons at Treasury questions.

Nerves not showing

If he was nervous, Mr Portillo did not show it. The convention is that the opposition hurl questions at the government.

Instead, Mr Portillo used the opportunity to make a few pronouncements of his own.

Two days into the job and he astonished MPs by announcing not one but two policy u-turns.

In future, he said the Conservatives would not oppose independence for the Bank of England and more surprisingly he said in future the Tories would not oppose the minimum wage.

Many Labour MPs (and a few Tories as well) could not believe their ears. Mr Brown leapt on the revelations as a preacher would welcome a sinner who had repented.

Michael Portillo Michael Portillo: Shadow Chancellor
Both men are political heavyweights. The future clashes between them will be intriguing and will add a bit of sparkle to the economic debate.

And another reappearance at Westminster this week.

The former Defence Secretary, George Robertson, officially took up his seat in the House of Lords.

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen was awarded a peerage last year after being appointed the secretary general of Nato.

Because he now holds that position, he has decided to sit as a crossbencher and will not take the Labour whip.

The timing of the by-election last year to find a replacement for Lord Robertson in his Hamilton South seat proved to be highly controversial.

George Robertson George Robertson: Taken seat in the Lords

The government's opponents accused Labour of staging the contest to maximise disruption for the Scottish National Party.

The election was eventually held during the SNP's autumn conference. Labour retained the seat, but with a much reduced majority.

But back to Westminster - as one would expect when a new peer formally takes up their seat in the Lords - everything went like clockwork and was word perfect.

In fact, the only revelation came at the beginning when Lord Robertson was introduced by his full name to his new colleagues: "Lord George Islay MacNeill Robertson of Port Ellen."

That could make for some fairly packed letterheads before Lord Robertson even writes anything on his new House of Lords headed notepaper.

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See also:
03 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Portillo springs surprise U-turns
31 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Minister quits for Labour 'heartlands'
31 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Moonie takes over defence role

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