Great Turf Wars of Whitehall we have known

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The Independent Online
IT SHOULD be no surprise that the creation of a new department under Clare Short should produce turf wars. Its guerrilla war with the Foreign Office is just one of the pitch battles going on in Whitehall and is small beer alongside conflicts of previous decades.

Under the last government the Overseas Development Administration, as it then was, played junior partner to the Foreign Office which had overall control of overseas aid. Against many expectations a long-standing pledge to set up a separate, cabinet-level department survived into the Labour manifesto, with Ms Short duly appointed the first Secretary of State for International Development in May. Relations between the fledgling department and the Foreign Office were strained as the DFID agreed its remit. There were also difficulties with the Treasury about who pulled Britain's strings at the World Bank. Over Montserrat the divisions have emerged clearly.

Just down the road from the DFID a fierce fight is raging over the merging of two departments: Environment and Transport. The new "super-ministry", the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions under John Prescott is a curious creation.

Mr Prescott has two deputies: Gavin Strang, the Transport minister, who enjoys cabinet rank, and Michael Meacher, the Environment minister, who does not. Interestingly, the roads lobby seems to be losing out in the new formation. The clearest example of this came when decisions on the Government's road review, nodded through by Mr Strang, were overturned by his boss, Mr Prescott. Whitehall-watchers are monitoring closely each Civil Service appointment to try to interpret the new balance of power.

In the 1960s Harold Wilson's creation of the Department of Economic Affairs pitched George Brown against the then Chancellor, Jim Callaghan. In the 1970s Europe proved the focus of tensions between a Eurosceptic Treasury and a pro-European Foreign Office.

And it was Europe again in the 1980s that proved the focus of difference, this time between Charles Powell, Margaret Thatcher's foreign policy adviser, and the Foreign Office under Sir Geoffrey Howe, and between Mrs Thatcher and the Treasury. Eventually these differences provoked the resignation of first Nigel Lawson, the Chancellor, and then Sir Geoffrey. Tony Blair must hope he will be luckier.