Blair's magnificent seven: the new cabinet takes shape

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The Independent Online
These are the seven Labour front benchers appointed yesterday as Tony Blair named a third of his Cabinet within hours of stepping through the front door of 10 Downing Street.

Mr Blair will complete his appointments today, providing strong clues to the priorities and direction of the incoming government.

Clare Short is widely expected to be appointed to a Cabinet post.

Mr Blair's press secretary, Alastair Campbell, becomes a special adviser with responsibility for speaking to the media on the Government's behalf.

Jonathan Powell, who was head of Mr Blair's office in Opposition, becomes chief of staff, responsible for coordinating his private office, the press office, the policy unit at Number 10 and the political office.

John Prescott, 58

Becomes Deputy Prime Minister in charge of a new "super ministry" covering transport and environment, including the regions.

It is the job he wanted, after turning down other portfolios, to get stuck into a task which could include raising investment in the London Underground and more house building.

A blunt Northerner, he regards himself as a moderniser and a man with ideas. He is restless for power, and is likely to turn his office into one of the engine-rooms of the Blair government.

David Blunkett, 49

If Labour had wanted to design its ideal Secretary of State for Education, it might well have come up with David Blunkett.

His experience of the education system is responsible for his enthusiasm for policies more usually associated with politicians of the right: mental arithmetic, discipline, learning to read using methods plugged by traditionalists.

He will give no quarter to failing schools and failing teachers, and is determined to raise schools' expectations of their pupils.

Margaret Beckett, age 54

Appointment as President of the Board of Trade is a reward for her key campaign role. She now appears rehabilitated after a rocky period, appearing at election news conferences and on television.

She was praised when she took over the leadership after John Smith's death in 1994, but gained little. After Blair won the leadership election she was demoted from deputy leader to health, then trade and industry. Brought up in Norwich, she has been member for Derby South since 1983.

Gordon Brown, 46

"Sex on legs," was how one woman at my election night party described the new Chancellor. "He's very intelligent and I like that in a man."

His keen intellect will please Treasury officials too. Mandarins like their chancellors to be brainy and interested in the nuances of economics. Ken Clarke had the brains but not the interest. Gordon Brown has both.

Serious-minded, with a passion for fairness that stems from his upbringing as the son of a Church of Scotland minister.

Robin Cook, 51

The new Foreign Secretary is marked as a man who will make a distinctive contribution to the Blair administration.

The image of the rather gnomic Scotsman as a man with a barbed tongue and razor wit - used to superb effect in parliamentary debate - is public enough. But behind that is a sense of mission that has meant keeping faith with basic principles.

Known as something of a Euro-sceptic, he will take a lead in European negotiations and in defence and foreign policy.

`Derry' Irvine, 56

Alexander "Derry" Irvine is one of the least well-known but most influential members of the new Blair Cabinet.

He has already pledged a review of legal aid spending and a "cost-benefit" analysis of the plans to overhaul the civil justice system.

He appears more liberal than Jack Straw, persuading him to drop his support for the bugging provisions in the Police Bill, and he influenced Labour's decision to incorporate the European Convention of Human Rights into British law.

Jack Straw, 50

There should be no surprise that Jack Straw should have progressed from angering the liberal left, making law and order a Labour selling point, to ascending to Home Secretary.

He was widely criticised in 1995 when he urged that the streets be reclaimed from the "aggressive begging of winos, addicts and squeegee merchants". But for many, here was a man who understood the plight of estate dwellers who were fed up with having their front doors kicked in.

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