TONY BLAIR bowed to pressure yesterday from the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, for John Reid to be made Secretary of State for Scotland.
Downing Street said the Prime Minister had wanted to appoint the best candidate to the job, but it was also seen as a last-minute move by Mr Blair to avoid the appointment being interpreted as a slapdown for Mr Brown.
The Chancellor was surprised by reports last week that Mr Blair had rejected Mr Reid, the Chancellor's choice for the job, and had decided to appoint Helen Liddell, who was privately criticised for lacking modern campaigning skills in the battle against the SNP for the Scottish Parliament.
Mr Brown took control of the Scottish campaign himself, and helped to deliver a crucial victory over the SNP. The Prime Minister was about to make the announcement last Friday that Mrs Liddell had the job as Secretary of State, but was persuaded by senior colleagues to hold off.
"Over the weekend, the Prime Minister thought about it again," said a senior government source. "Tony wanted somebody who could really handle Scotland because it is going to be quite tricky."
Mr Reid, who was keen to move to the Scottish Office to take on a more strategic role, was convinced by the end of last week that he was staying at the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions as John Prescott's Transport minister. However, Mr Blair yesterday appointed Mrs Liddell as Transport minister, and promoted Mr Reid into the cabinet post she had wanted.
Mr Prescott was said by colleagues to be relaxed about Mr Blair's change of heart.
Mrs Liddell won a reputation as a hard-hitting minister with a safe pair of hands at the Treasury when she dealt with mis-selling by the pensions industry, including a policy of naming and shaming companies slow to pay out claims.
She will have to handle the continuing campaign by the road haulage industry for a reversal of increases in diesel duty by the Chancellor. Her colleagues believe she will be a formidable Transport minister, and it confirms Mr Blair has no objections to a Scottish minister being put in charge of public services in England, while transport in Scotland has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament. "She was very tough at the Treasury dealing with the pensions industry and she will be as tough as nails with the road haulage industry," said a junior minister.
Mr Blair also moved Geoff Hoon from the Lord Chancellor's Department to the Foreign Office as Minister of State to replace Derek Fatchett, who died of a heart attack last week. Keith Vaz, a well-liked Labour backbencher, was promoted to replace Mr Hoon on the lower salary of a parliamentary undersecretary. He becomes the first Asian to achieve the rank of minister.
The Scottish Tories claimed Mr Reid's appointment was a snub to Mrs Liddell. The Scottish Tory leader, David McLetchie, said: "Helen Liddell clearly attracted disfavour from Labour campaign forces during the election when, after her much-vaunted appointment as their `big gun', she disappeared off the radar screen. Today's announcement would seem to be the final affirmation that Mrs Liddell has no part to play in Scottish politics."
Most people will regard Dr Reid's move into the Cabinet as the new Secretary of State for Scotland as a promotion that was simply waiting to happen. MPs in all parts of the Commons see this as a just reward for probably the most successful middle-ranking minister in the Government. Dr Reid, 52, has been a tough-talking but malice-free political operator, a skilled negotiator and a formidable parliamentarian, first as Armed Forces minister and, from last year, at Transport. The son of a Lanarkshire postman and a factory worker, Dr Reid was educated at St Patrick's Senior Secondary School, Coatbridge and Stirling University. He is a widower with two sons.
who enters the Government as the Lord Chancellor's Junior Minister in the Commons, is the first Asian to hold a ministerial post in this country, according to Downing Street. Mr Vaz, 42, was elected MP for Leicester East in 1987. As MP he campaigned for compensation for the creditors of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which collapsed in 1991. He also led 5,000 Muslims through Leicester in 1989, protesting against Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses". Mr Vaz was born in Aden of Goan Christian parents. A lawyer by profession, he has been acting as unpaid Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Attorney General, John Morris. He is married with two children.