Blair begins

The first full day for Labour's new Britain and ...; Record five women in Cabinet; Frank Field given key role of reforming the Welfare State; Left-winger Michael Meacher left out of team; Mo Mowlam goes walkabout in Belfast to boost peace process;
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The Independent Online
Tony Blair put his personal stamp on his new government yesterday by appointing a radical social security thinker, Frank Field, to high office and axing two Old Labour veterans entitled under party rules to jobs.

He moved towards a dramatic reform of the welfare state by appointing Frank Field to be Minister of State with responsibility for long-term reform of the social security system. Then, in a series of appointments which put five women into the Cabinet, some long-serving shadow ministers seen as out of favour were given non-Cabinet posts, others were moved sideways.

Among the surprises were sideways moves for Chris Smith, to National Heritage from high- profile Health, George Robertson to Defence from the controversial Scottish Office port- folio, and Jack Cunningham to Agriculture.

Michael Meacher, in the Shadow Cabinet for 14 years, wasdumped. He took a job as Minister of State in John Prescott's "super ministry" covering the environment and transport.

In addition to Mr Meacher, Tom Clarke, the former disability spokesman, did not win a Cabinet post to which he was entitled, becoming a Minister of State at National Heritage. There was also no room in the Cabinet for Derek Foster, the former Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who became a Minister of State in charge of public service at the Cabinet Office. Although not elected to the Shadow Cabinet, Mr Foster had been promised a Cabinet job.

But Clare Short, a popular if controversial figure on the left, was given the reward she wanted. She became a Cabinet minister in an upgraded Department of International Development.

Mr Blair's acute problems in accommodating his large Shadow Cabinet were illustrated by his decision to appoint Andrew Smith as Minister outside the Cabinet to take charge of the welfare-to-work programme. Labour had promised explicitly during the campaign that this position would be of Cabinet rank.

Harriet Harman was confirmed as Secretary of State for Social Security. But Downing Street took the unusual step of announcing simultaneously that Mr Field, chairman of the Commons social security select committee in the last parliament, will be Minister of State with the job of pioneering long-term social security reform. Mr Field is renowned for his willingness to think the unthinkable, and his appointment is the clearest indication yet that Mr Blair intends to tackle Britain's ballooning pounds 90bn-a-year welfare budget. A Downing Street source said: "Tony has immense regard for his abilities. This is an area which requires bold thinking."

A spokeswoman for Ms Harman insisted that the two would work together very well, but the appointment will be seen as a clear indication that the Prime Minister shares Mr Field's concerns over the growth of the "dependency culture". More Blairites will be promoted to junior ministerial jobs and some Old Labour Cabinet ministers may be on trial.

Mo Mowlam, appointed Northern Ireland Secretary, demonstrated her commitment to the peace process with a high-profile walkabout in Belfast.

In choosing his Cabinet, Mr Blair tore up the party's rule, dating from 1980, that all members of the Shadow Cabinet should be found posts in the real thing.

Friends of Mr Meacher did not seek to conceal his anger. One said: "He thinks the constructive left should be part of an inclusive government. He believes that hundreds of thousands of party members and trade unionists would want all the interests represented within this new government, and that is why he has agreed to take the post, though obviously he is disappointed."

Alistair Darling becomes Chief Secretary to the Treasury and, in a surprise promotion, Frank Dobson - one of Labour's traditionalists - becomes Secretary of State for Health in Chris Smith's place. Mr Smith insisted yesterday that he had not been demoted and that he would re-launch the National Heritage department as a "powerhouse of imagination and creativity in government". Two older stalwarts in danger of demotion won Cabinet posts: David Clark, who becomes Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Gavin Strang, who becomes Transport minister at Cabinet rank.