Beckett's job at risk in minimum wage row

MARGARET BECKETT'S cabinet position was in the balance last night after she suffered a defeat at the hands of the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, over the minimum wage, according to some of her closest cabinet colleagues.

Mrs Beckett was last night fighting to avoid being demoted from the Department of Trade and Industry in the Prime Minister's July reshuffle. Her left- wing allies were also showing signs of deserting her after she announced a basic minimum rate of pounds 3.60 but only a transitional pounds 3 for 18- to 21- year-olds until 2000.

The Tory trade and industry spokesman, John Redwood, taunted Mrs Beckett by saying she was being forced to "eat her words", and her natural supporters on the `Old Labour' left, in the Campaign Group, turned against her.

She secured a face-saving concession against stiff resistance from the Treasury in the knock-down fight over the weekend to review the position of 21-year-olds in 1999, and to keep the Low Pay Commission in operation. That stopped its chairman, George Bain, resigning in protest at the rejection of his commission's recommendations.

The President of the Board of Trade's handling of the minium wage has caused lasting enmity with Mr Brown, who has now forged a close alliance with John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister. Her only cabinet-ranking ally was David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education. She also had the backing of her deputy, Ian McCartney, but appeared last night to have lost confidence around Downing Street.

Leaders of the Labour Party's biggest union affiliates, who had attacked the Commission's original recommendations, were even more angry over the amendments forced through by the Chancellor.

Minimum wage, page 2

Politics, page 8

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