Blair assaults Prescott empire

Reshuffle Ends Era When A Minister Had To Be A Middle-Aged Man In A Dark Suit

TONY BLAIR is planning a further assault on John Prescott's Whitehall powerbase by hiving off part of it into a new ministry for rural affairs.

Mr Prescott was the main casualty of the wide-ranging reshuffle of junior and middle-ranking ministers completed by Mr Blair last night. Four of his eight ministers were moved from the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, (DETR) including two close allies who he wanted to keep - Dick Caborn and Alan Meale.

One Cabinet source said Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, who saw some of his acolytes moved in last year's reshuffle, warned Mr Prescott recently: "They went for my people last year. This time they will go for yours."

The Deputy Prime Minister fought off a last-minute attempt by Mr Blair to dismantle his whole unwieldy department in the reshuffle, it emerged last night.

But Mr Prescott's supporters confirmed that plans for a new countryside ministry, merging parts of the DETR and the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, were expected in a White Paper around the turn of the year. It is understood the possible Whitehall shake-up was one reason Mr Blair delayed big Cabinet changes this week.

Hiving off part of the DETR would lighten Mr Prescott's huge workload, enabling him to devote more time to tackling Britain's transport problems.

Labour will announce shortly that Mr Prescott is to stand down from his formal party campaign job, which will go to his ally Ian McCartney, who was appointed a Cabinet Office minister yesterday. Mr McCartney's pivotal role will include acting as a link man between the party and government and reviving the morale of grassroots Labour activists.

Mr Prescott is said to feel bruised by the attacks on his running of his department by Blairites in the run-up to the reshuffle. Yesterday he sought a truce during a private meeting with Mr Blair, urging him to rein in the aides he has dubbed the "faceless wonders" who have criticised him. "John wants everyone to pull together now," one friend said last night.

Mr Prescott was said to be "saddened" at the sacking of Mr Meale, the junior environment minister, who had nothing to do with the transport debacle. He had responsibility for canals, which are booming.

"He doesn't feel as though he has been shafted. He has probably reinforced his position as the numero uno in charge of transport," said one close friend.

But allies of Mr Prescott confirmed that a rural affairs ministry was on the cards. "People have been talking about a big department for the countryside and there is something to be said for it," said one. "It might not happen yet but it will be raised within the next year."

Downing Street sought to fight back last night against hostile media coverage of Mr Blair's surprise decision not to sack any of his Cabinet.

Its efforts were helped by huge changes amongst the ministers outside the Cabinet, aimed at beefing up the Government's performance. Fourteen ministers resigned or were sacked, and 13 backbenchers, including five women, were promoted to ministerial office. Fourteen ministers moved sideways and 11 were promoted within the government.

Downing Street insisted that Mr Blair had never planned big Cabinet changes this month. It suggested, however, that Mo Mowlam may have moved from the Northern Ireland Office if talks on power-sharing executive in Ulster had not collapsed two weeks ago. "Had the situation in Northern Ireland developed differently, all sorts of things may have happened," said Mr Blair's spokesman.

Margaret Beckett, the Commons leader, said: "Mo Mowlam I think is in a very special position because the circumstances in Northern Ireland changed and maybe her own feelings changed and that is a special and unusual set of circumstances."

It is understood that Ms Mowlam was furious that she risked being branded a "failure" by Downing Street and the media when the peace process stalled. She then defied Mr Blair by publicly declaring she wanted to keep her post.

William Hague, the Tory leader, accused Mr Blair of "weak leadership" and ridiculed his "non-reshuffle". He likened the Prime Minister to a general who had sacked his infantry instead of his officers when things were not going well."It's wrong to say it's the fault of junior ministers, it's not, it's the fault of the senior ministers," he said.

Patricia Hewitt, Minister of State at Department of Trade and Industry

Gisela Stuart, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

Baroness Scotland of Asthal,Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs

Kate Hoey takes over as Minister for Sport from Tony Banks

Jacqui Smith, Under-Secretary, Department of Education

Beverley Hughes, Under-Secretary, Environment, Transport and Regions

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?