100 days of Labour: The cronies, the changes, the criticism:

Prime Minister needs the killer instinct of his friends, reports Anthony Bevins
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The Independent Online
The accusation that the Labour Government is being run by "Crony Tony" and his chums has begun to spread at Westminster, as an increasing number of people feel excluded from the Blair project to modernise the party and the country.

The respective fortunes of Cabinet members rise or fall according to their performance and, perhaps more importantly, how they are reported in the media. But the men on the inside track are Lord Irvine, the Lord Chancellor, who headed the legal chambers that Mr Blair and Cherie Booth joined at the start of their legal careers; Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer and long-standing friend and strategist; Peter Mandelson, minister without portfolio and colleague with plans to put an end to ideology that so attract Mr Blair; and Alistair Campbell, the No 10 press secretary who makes Margaret Thatcher's hit-man, Sir Bernard Ingham, look like a cuddly teddy bear.

When Tony Blair first constructed his network of Cabinet committees, the heart of ministerial power, he put Derry Irvine in charge of future legislation, devolution to Scotland, Wales and the English regions, and the committee on the European Convention of Human Rights. But the power and influence of Lord Irvine goes much wider than that. A minister with open access to the Prime Minister, he is said to advise and influence on a broad range of issues; big and small. He helped in the drafting of the Labour manifesto, and when the Prime Minister cast his eye over the Labour nominations to the Commons select committees in July, it is said that Lord Irvine influenced some of the choices.

The next-door neighbour at No 11, Mr Brown remains a friend of the Prime Minister's and another essential influence - adding his keen strategic economic and political thinking to the array of advice Mr Blair relies on.

It is suspected that Mr Brown retains a natural ambition to be Prime Minister, but, then, an increasing number of ministers believe that Mr Mandelson, too, shares that ambition. There is not much that he does not get his sticky fingers on and there has even been a suggestion that he is beginning to take an interest in Northern Ireland - a prospect that causes dismay among those who take a keen interest in Ulster's problems. His official brief says that he "will oversee policy development at all levels", which gives him a free hand and in the many Cabinet committees on which he serves, and colleagues defer to a man who is seen as "his master's voice". Mr Mandelson is a master of self-promotion, his attachment to Mr Blair is very strong, and his views are heeded. The Blair Revolution, the book that he co-authored with Roger Liddle, a former SDP parliamentary candidate and current member of the No 10 policy unit, is an Ordnance Survey map to the Blair project for the modernisation of politics.

Alistair Campbell, former political editor of the Daily Mirror, and now press secretary, travels everywhere Mr Blair goes, and to see them writing and re-writing each other's draft speeches and articles is a pure delight. He could be taken for a bodyguard or an assassin; he is in fact a buddy. But like Lord Irvine, Mr Brown and Mr Mandelson, Mr Campbell shares a quality that is unusually rare in politics - the killer instinct. All four men have a ruthlessness that can shock when fully exposed. There is no doubting Mr Blair's intelligence, courage and tenacity, but perhaps he needs the support of his four musketeers to go for the enemy - Tory or Labour - and kill.

Powergames: The winners and the losers

David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education and Employment

"David Blunkett sent me a ... list of things his department had done since the election and it was incredibly impressive," Tony Blair told the Mirror last week. The Dearing report on higher education funding was mishandled, but otherwise Mr Blunkett scores full marks.

Mo Mowlam, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Started with a homely charm offensive on the streets of Northern Ireland. She offended the nationalists during the marching season by forcing through the Orange parade at Drumcree. But Orangemen re-routed two other sensitive marches, and then the IRA ceasefire was restored on 19 July.

Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer

The powerful co-architect of new Labour, he had a fearsome reputation for grumpiness and inarticulacy which could have held him back. But he took to his post with an ease, confidence and series of policy surprises announced with panache. He even became more human by being seen with his girlfriend.

John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions

Still performing strongly, but has failed to live up to his DPM title or make sense of his super-ministry.

Frank Dobson,

Health Secretary

Tony Blair once said he did not intend to turn the clock back except in the NHS, hence the appointment here of a reassuringly old Labour figure. But Mr Dobson made a mess of the old "not ruling anything out" journalistic trick on hospital charges, and his junior, Tessa Jowell, has been highly visible.

Chris Smith, Secretary of State for Culture

First tripped when he had to give Camelot's Lottery "fat cats" a severe talking-to. They came out thumbing their noses. Then misread the PM's views on the Millennium, which was taken over by Peter Mandelson, who was given a slot to answer Commons questions about the Dome, in the middle of Mr Smith's question time.

Ron Davies, Secretary of State for Wales

A more skilful operator than he is given credit for, Ron Davies failed to ensure full Downing Street backing for threatening to kick hard-left Llew Smith MP out of the party, causing the PM an awkward moment in the Commons. Plus his past rudeness to Prince Charles has been unhelpful.

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