Ministers' fury at Blair over shuffle circus

FURIOUS Cabinet ministers are demanding that Tony Blair end the annual cabinet reshuffle ritual which they say paralyses the Government for weeks and provokes continual, and humiliating, media speculation.

The Prime Minister is facing a growing rebellion from senior ministers including John Prescott and Margaret Beckett, both of whom were victims of negative newspaper stories in the run up to last week's ministerial shake-up.

The frustration will be intensified by the announcement that George Robertson, the Defence Secretary, is likely tomorrow to be appointed Nato Secretary General, necessitating yet another reshuffle in the autumn. This follows earlier shake-ups caused by the resignations of Peter Mandelson, following his home loan scandal, and Donald Dewar, now First Minister of Scotland.

Ministers are urging Mr Blair to make clear that he intends in future to carry out reshuffles on an irregular basis when he feels it is necessary, rather than having an annual event preceded by months of fevered speculation. The tradition of the summer reshuffle is a recent innovation which was set in stone by John Major; previous prime ministers would often spring shake-ups on their cabinets more suddenly.

Members of the Cabinet argue privately that it is impossible for Whitehall to function properly in an atmosphere of uncertainty and instability, and that decisions have been put on hold recently while departments waited to see if their boss would survive last week's reshuffle.

They also say it is difficult for ministers to master their portfolios if they are constantly shunted around from one department to another every 12 months. "You wouldn't run a company like this," one Cabinet minister said last week. "And it's no way to run a government."

There is growing anger across Whitehall that Downing Street did not dampen down the expectation that last week's reshuffle would be far wider than it was. Despite weeks of speculation that several Cabinet ministers were facing the sack, none were dismissed last week and only one person, Paul Murphy, was promoted to the Cabinet, although there were substantial changes in the more junior ministerial ranks. The Tories seized on the news to accuse Mr Blair of "chickening out" of the changes he really wanted to implement, following appeals from ministers including Frank Dobson and Mo Mowlam to be allowed to stay in their posts.

Ministers are blaming Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's official spokesman, for failing to put a halt to the speculation - he has consistently refused to comment on reshuffle stories. One government member privately accused Downing Street of allowing the reports to run in an attempt to "keep ministers on their toes" by making them feel insecure about their future. Mr Prescott has already blamed the "faceless wonders" at Number 10 for a succession of newspaper stories suggesting that the Prime Minister wanted his deputy to "get a grip" on transport.

It is understood that Mr Blair did originally intend to carry out a broader reshuffle but changed his mind when the Northern Ireland peace process stalled. He then decided that Dr Mowlam should stay in Ulster to see the talks through at least until the autumn. The next reshuffle will bring in more changes at Cabinet level and the summer recess is certain to be dominated by speculation about who is up and who is down.

Mr Robertson is likely to take up his Nato post in October, when his predecessor Javier Solana goes to Brussels as Europe's foreign and defence supremo. His departure from British politics will also prompt a by-election in his Scottish constituency, where Labour could face a threat from the Scottish National Party. However, Mr Blair decided that it was worth relinquishing his Defence Secretary in order to give Britain a foothold on the international stage - the other potential candidates Paddy Ashdown and Michael Portillo were not thought to be strong enough to win worldwide support.

Mr Robertson, a strong pro-European, will be able to use the Nato job to promote the concept of Europe getting its own defence capability and help shape international war policy in the wake of the Kosovo conflict.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine