Election '97: Whitehall awaits new bosses

Civil servants are gearing up for a change in power
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The Independent Online
The transfer of power after a British general election is painfully public for the loser.

Assuming the polls are right, and after John Major concedes, which would be in the middle of the night, the first official move will be made by the Prime Minister's private secretary, Alex Allan, who will ring up his counterpart at the Palace to make an appointment for Mr Major to tender his resignation.

The meeting will probably take place in late morning, and Mr Allan will stay for a cup of tea to await the arrival of Mr Blair. Mr Major, who arrived in his official car, will leave in the back up vehicle, probably to spend the weekend in Huntingdon. Meanwhile, Mr Blair will arrive in his leader of the opposition's car, see the Queen - no kissing of hands, according to official sources - and leave as almost the prime minister. The official annointment does not come until a meeting of the Privy Council, probably held on Saturday evening, at which the new Cabinet will be given their seals of office.

The flat upstairs at No 10 is furnished and the Majors will have put their chattels into store, leaving it in "the sort of condition you would expect to find a holiday flat" - except that it has no cutlery. This should not be too much of an immediate problem because the Blairs will continue living in Islington for the next few weeks, before moving into the four bedroomed flat "above the shop".

Mr Blair's first task will be to appoint the Cabinet and the first appointments are expected to be announced tomorrow night. Then there will be the 60 or 70 junior posts. It will be a difficult weekend for the leading lights among MPs who will be sitting by their phones waiting for the call from Mr Blair's office.

The civil servants view a successful transfer of power as the biggest challenge of their careers. There have, already, been extensive preparations with shadow ministers being allowed to see permanent secretaries since January last year with Mr Major's blessing. Neil Kinnock apparently found these meetings so valuable that he wanted to ensure that Mr Blair was able to take advantage of them. Mr Kinnock wrote to Mr Major after his defeat to ask if shadow ministers could have early access to ensure that they would not miss out should there have been a snap poll.

All departments have produced large briefs for new ministers and civil servants have also made plans for the new Department of International Development promised in the Labour manifesto. The Department of Education has also bought equipment and prepared a team of readers as David Blunkett, who is blind, has been promised the job should Labour win.