`Blair's Babes' finally get their hands on power

Labour reshuffle
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The Independent Online
WOMEN EMERGED as the big winners in the reshuffle as Tony Blair kept his election promise to create a government that would more accurately reflect society's gender balance.

Nine women were promoted or given ministerial posts for the first time, to "feminise" the administration. Of the 1997 intake of "Blair babes", Melanie Johnson, MP for Welwyn Hatfield, becomes Economic Secretary, Beverley Hughes, MP for Stretford and Urmston, becomes a junior environment minister and Jacqui Smith, MP for Redditch, becomes junior education minister.

Gisela Stuart, German-born MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, has been appointed a junior health minister.

Patricia Hewitt, Neil Kinnock's former press secretary, moves up from Economic Secretary to become Minister of State at the Department of Trade and Industry, Baroness Hayman has been given a special GM foods brief at the Ministry of Agriculture, and Barbara Roche goes to the Home Office from the Treasury.

Baroness Symons of Verham Dean has become the first female defence minister and Kate Hoey, an Arsenal fan, the first female Minister for Sport.

The Government also has Britain's first black female minister, with the appointment of Baroness Scotland as Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office.

Thirteen MPs entered government from the backbenches, 14 moved sideways and 11 were promoted in one of the most extensive reshuffles of middle and junior ministerial ranks in recent years.

Among the main male beneficiaries was Geoff Hoon, who moves up at the Foreign Office to take the influential post of Minister of State with responsibility for Europe.

Peter Hain, the Welsh Office minister who ran Labour's campaign for the Welsh Assembly and helped Alun Michael to defeat Rhodri Morgan for the First Secretary job, has been rewarded with a Foreign Office post, despite his recent criticism that the party was failing to connect with traditional voters.

The agriculture minister Jeff Rooker, who impressed Mr Blair with his handling of the GM issue, moves to social security.

Charles Clarke, Mr Kinnock's former chief of staff,switches from education standards minister to Minister of State at the Home Office.

Mr Clarke's post has been filled by Malcolm Wicks, an ally of Frank Field, who was a social security shadow in opposition and was unlucky not to become a minister after the general election.

Helen Liddell ends a brief stint as Transport Minister to succeed John Battle as Energy Minister. Mr Battle moves to the Foreign Office.

From the backbenches the Birmingham Six campaigner Chris Mullin takes over from Alan Meale at the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, while the former postal workers union leader Alan Johnson has gone to the DTI as a junior minister.

The leading casualties include Tony Lloyd, the Foreign Office minister damaged by the arms-to-Africa affair.