Beckett struggling to keep Cabinet position

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The Independent Online
MARGARET BECKETT is fighting to keep her Cabinet post as President of the Board of Trade after her bruising row with Gordon Brown.

She does not want to be moved in Tony Blair's July reshuffle, but last night her hold on her job at the DTI was very much in the balance.

Mrs Beckett is telling colleagues that after the coal rescue plan to be announced next Thursday, she has a big agenda to complete, including a review of the public utilities and all their regulators, and the implementation of the Fairness at Work White Paper. That cuts little ice with her critics around the Cabinet table who say, privately, she has failed get a grip on her brief.

When she arrived at the DTI, her Tory shadow, John Redwood, said she was spending too much time in her holiday caravan with her husband Leo. She brushed aside the attack as unworthy of serious comment, but she has been unable to secure the confidence of the big players in the Cabinet.

Her row with Mr Brown reached a crisis over the weekend, as she fought to secure some face-saving compromise from the package.

Last night she faced the critics on her own back benches when she finally "sold" the package to a private meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party after her statement to MPs. The sharpest criticism came from the Campaign Group, the MPs who voted for her in the leadership race when she was forced into third place by Mr Blair and John Prescott.

It was the second time in recent weeks she has been engaged in a fight with Gordon Brown. Her White Paper on trade union recognition fell short of the left wing's demands.

The charges against Mrs Beckett have been denied by her friends, who said she had fought off the Treasury, which wanted to scrap the Low Pay Commission after its report was delivered.

By securing its future, and by getting the review of the lower rate for 18-21 age group next year, she kept George Bain, its chairman, from resigning, said a source.

One of the reasons she has been damaged, her friends said, was that she flatly refuses to have a "spin doctor" spinning for her. She has three advisers, but none is authorised to brief the press for her on her Cabinet battles, leaving her to face rubbishing from her colleagues.

However, the Treasury was furious when it was leaked three weeks ago that she had turned over the Chancellor. That left him with no option but to win the argument over low pay, and to do it publicly.