Government in Crisis: Labour guffaws greet Walker posting: Derision greeted the choice of a Conservative 'wet' to co-ordinate coalfields aid. Colin Brown reports

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The Independent Online
LORD WALKER, the former Cabinet 'wet', was appointed yesterday to spearhead the task of providing hope for the communities hit by pit closures.

The appointment of the former Secretary of State for Energy by Michael Heseltine, a political 'blood brother', to act as his special adviser on the aid to the mining communities caused guffaws of derision among Labour MPs. He was in charge during the miners' strike.

But Lord Walker, a former Secretary of State for Wales, is respected among Cabinet ministers for his success in attracting inward investment to Wales, particularly by Japanese companies.

Lord Walker, 60, who stood down from his Worcester seat at the election, was made chairman-elect of the Urban Regeneration Agency by John Major to lead the Government's efforts to revive the inner cities.

Pending the legislation to create the URA, he has yet to take up that post. The President of the Board of Trade said Lord Walker's new role would be as a 'co-ordinator' and 'facilitator at national level' for the aid to the mining communities.

He will be asked to ensure that the programmes for helping the coal mining communities mesh together, avoiding wasteful overlaps and damaging gaps, Mr Heseltine said.

He will be expected to act as a troubleshooter, but Lord Walker, who will keep his position on the URA, will be expected to play a more active role in helping to attract business investment to the coal mining areas.

Lord Walker, having established a rapport with the miners in Welsh valleys, is seen by the Tory leaders as a national figure who has won the confidence of some of the Government's critics. He will be required to present the caring face of Conservatism when the closures go ahead.

Labour MPs regard Lord Walker's achievements in Wales with scepticism.

'He's just one of Major's chums. It's the old pals act again,' one source close to John Smith said.

As a non-executive director of British Gas, his highly-paid business connections may be resented in the coalfields.

Labour supporters are likely to be reminded that he received a pounds 500,000 pay-off, including a pounds 50,000 Mercedes, from the Maxwell Communication Corporation, which he has promised to pay back if it is proved to have come from the plundered pension funds.

(Photograph omitted)