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Saturday, 9 June, 2001, 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK
Sisters are doing it
Four of the seven women to hold Cabinet posts
A key feature of Tony Blair's new Cabinet is the record number of women. The newcomers have been knocking on the door for some time, writes BBC News Online's Megan Lane.

When it comes to gender balance, the House of Commons has long been tipped in favour of men. After the number of women MPs doubled in 1997 to 121 - of whom roughly half had been selected through Labour's all-female shortlists - this has now fallen to 117.

Blair and 1997 intake of women MPs
Blair's Babes: Failed to deliver?
But those in senior government positions has risen to seven - a record - in Tony Blair's post-election reshuffle.

Joining Margaret Beckett, Clare Short and Helen Liddell at the cabinet table are Estelle Morris, Patricia Hewitt, Hilary Armstrong and Tessa Jowell.

Blairites they may well be, but these women are no "Blair Babes" - the label given to 1997's flock of new women MPs.

I think Tony Blair's appointed everybody in the Cabinet on merit

Patricia Hewitt
The promotions are seen as an answer to critics disappointed in Mr Blair's failure to promote deserving women during his first term; and angered by the male-dominated campaigns run by the three main parties.

A telling moment came during the campaign when a journalist asked Estelle Morris about the backseat role of women MPs - at which, Chancellor Gordon Brown butted in.

Here, we profile the women in Mr Blair's reshuffled Cabinet:

Estelle Morris
Estelle Morris: Failed her A levels
Estelle Morris has been promoted from schools minister to education secretary in the new Department of Education and Skills. On failing her A levels, she has said: "I didn't work hard enough - that has driven me ever since."

The softly-spoken former teacher won the then-marginal seat of Birmingham Yardley in 1992. Both her father, Charles Morris and her uncle, Alf, now Lord Morris, were MPs.

Patricia Hewitt
Patricia Hewitt: Former e-commerce supremo
Patricia Hewitt, until now the e-commerce minister, becomes the trade and industry secretary, and minister for women.

Formerly Neil Kinnock's press secretary, she contested the 1983 general election, but didn't join the House until 1997. A keen horsewoman, she has hit the headlines with her anti-hunting stance.

Tessa Jowell
Tessa Jowell: Blair buddy
Tessa Jowell is the new culture secretary, having been promoted from her role as minister of state in the now-defunct Department for Education and Employment.

A personal friend of the Blairs, she has been an MP since 1992. In Who's Who, she lists music and Italy among her recreations.

Hilary Armstrong
Hilary Armstrong: Politics in the blood
Hilary Armstrong leaves her job as a minister of state in the DETR to become chief whip.

She has been the MP for Durham North West since 1987, coming from a background in social work and youth affairs. She, too, comes from a political family - her father was Ernest Armstrong, an MP in the 1980s.

Margaret Beckett
Margaret Beckett: Veteran campaigner
Former leader of the House of Commons Margaret Beckett heads up the new Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

She took her first steps up the junior ministerial ladder soon after being elected in 1974, but lost her seat five years later. Having staged a return in 1983, she was deputy party leader when the late John Smith took over from Mr Kinnock. After his death in 1994, she ran for both leader and deputy, but lost out to Tony Blair and John Prescott respectively.

Clare Short
Clare Short: Lampooned by impressionists
Clare Short holds onto her post as International Development Minister, despite speculation that she faced the axe. She has been an MP since 1983, and has hit the headlines for speaking "off message". Known for her tight-lipped delivery, she has been lampooned on Radio Four's impressionist programme Dead Ringers as having had her jaw wired shut by the PM.

Helen Liddell
Helen Liddell: Author of sex-and-politics novel
Helen Liddell stays put as Secretary of State for Scotland, a post she has held since January. A former journalist, the "Iron Lady of Scottish politics" became in MP in June 1994. She is also the author of the bodice-ripping thriller, Elite: The Rise and Rise of the First Female Scottish Secretary, published in 1990. The fictional main character, Lenny Hiddell [geddit?], ousts a boyish Labour prime minister in a People's Revolution sometime early in the 21st Century. Hmmmm... maybe Tony should watch his back?


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