Leading article: So when will the Prime Minister complete the cull?

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The Independent Culture
LIKE THE shoe salesman driven to distraction by the man in the room above dropping one shoe on the floor, the press has for weeks been agonised by the hints dropped by No 10 of a full Cabinet reshuffle. Now that the Prime Minister's carried out half the grisly task, commentators have been left screaming: "For God's sake drop the other one."

You can have some sympathy for Tony Blair. The same critics who have been berating him for being too obsessed with total control are now accusing him of being weak and indecisive. His colleagues, who have dismissed the whole business of reshuffles as a form of summer madness, are now saying it should have been bigger and more complete.

That it should. Tony Blair must have recognised a month or more ago that - even if he had already decided the shape of his reshuffle - he had too much on his plate to carry it out, this side of the holidays.

The failure to resolve the Northern Irish question made it too difficult to move Mo Mowlem. Without being able to act on Belfast, reintroducing Peter Mandelson to the Cabinet (and the other bits of the jigsaw) couldn't be fitted into place. Instead the Prime Minister went ahead - but only with putting new life into the junior ranks.

He hasn't done a bad job of this. If the object of the exercise is to bring in ministers who can deliver to key places of public concern, such as Transport and Health, then he has chosen a reasonably grown-up list. Jeff Rooker, Paul Boateng and Kate Hoey are all good moves.

And if the Prime Minister has persisted in his naive belief that businessmen make good ministers - Lords Simon and Sainsbury are hardly good exemplars - then it could be argued that introducing a bit of non-political blood - Lord (Gus) Macdonald of Tradeston, Scottish shipyard-worker-turned-television boss - in the system helps to keep the civil servants on their toes.

On the London front, indeed, the changes could benefit Labour. Adding Ian Banks and Glenda Jackson can only strengthen the Labour lists, but that is complicated by the continuing suggestion that the elevated Minister for London, Nick Raynsford, may yet throw his hat into the ring.

It is precisely this uncertainty that will dog the Government for months to come. Tony Blair has a Cabinet that he would clearly like to change. It is not the Cabinet he wishes to take into the next election. So until he does change it, the rumours of who's in and who's out will flame with increasing intensity.

There was no reason to carry out the reshuffle now. It could have waited until autumn, as Mrs Thatcher and other prime ministers have done in their day. Then Tony Blair could have dropped both shoes instead of keeping all his colleagues, never mind the press, on tenterhooks by dropping one and leaving the other in suspense.

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