Leading Article: A bit of prattle about who should be doing what

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The Independent Culture
IT'S THAT time of year again. The tennis players of Wimbledon have put their rackets away, the Orangemen of Ulster have put their marching boots on, and the political pundits have started telling the Prime Minister whom he is going to sack from his Government. The speculation about a reshuffle is dismissed by Tony Blair as "the usual prattle". This is a little harsh. Some of the prattle is of an unusually high quality this year. And even in this age of globalisation, the occupants of the seats around the Cabinet table remain a matter of concern. Besides, it's so much fun to play fantasy Prime Minister.

Let's start with Mr Blair's neighbour at No 11. The British economy's "goldilocks" condition - growing not so fast that it pushes inflation up and not so slowly that it threatens jobs - may not just be the result of Mr Brown's stewardship. But New Labour is getting the credit; it would seem eccentric to move Mr Brown now. No such confidence can be offered to Mr Blair's other senior colleagues. John Prescott's unwieldy Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is displaying worrying symptoms of bureaucratic giantism. There is growing concern over the transport shambles. Mr Blair should be brave enough to recognise a failed administrative experiment for what it is. Michael Meacher, the former vicar of Bennism, has proved an unexpectedly sure performer on the environment and Dr John Reid should be moved from the non-job of Scottish Secretary and reinstated as Transport Secretary. Both deserve seats at the Cabinet table.

A few months ago, Robin Cook was in the firing line. Today he has, to an extent, redeemed himself over Kosovo. But Mr Blair's original instincts were correct: Mr Cook should be moved. We recommend he be given the role of getting a grip on the constitutional agenda, which he has long shown an interest in, and which is in danger of drifting. He is pro-PR, which should help move the debate along, and he could take over the vestigial responsibilities of the Scottish and Welsh Offices.

That creates a vacancy, and one outstanding candidate to fill it. Jack Straw has proved to be a fine Home Secretary and he would rise to the challenge of another great office of state. Such a move would also take him out of the sphere where his occasionally illiberal instincts have caused conflict, as with the Asylum Bill. And Mr Prescott could replace him, a big enough job for a man of his stature.

Mo Mowlam wants to move away from the battles of building peace in Ulster and her request should be acceded to. However unfairly, she seems to be perceived as a partial figure among Unionists. Her battle against cancer and her caring aspect would also make her a natural successor to Frank Dobson at Health. She would have a quieter time, given that New Labour clearly intends to hold off major reforms in this field until after the next election. Mr Dobson should exploit his skills, founded in the hothouse of local government three decades ago, at the job he was probably born to do - Chief Whip. Peter Mandelson has not yet "done his time" for his past sins; what better place for him to finish off his punishment than being locked in endless negotiations in Northern Ireland?

Mr Blair should put some out of their misery: Jack Cunningham, who hasn't enforced much more than his expense claims (and most of his job is already being done by his deputy, Lord Falconer); Ann Taylor, another unsuccessful enforcer; Glenda Jackson, a surprisingly unglamorous transport minister; and Tony Lloyd, the man who played such an inglorious part in the Sierra Leone affair. Opportunities should be created to promote Ian McCartney, Kim Howells, Paul Murphy and Tessa Jowell.

There is a lot to do; there may be a lot of prattling going on in No 10 before the month is out, and the Government is reformed and reinvigorated.