Blair reshuffle angers greens

ENVIRONMENTAL groups have reacted with dismay to Tony Blair's Shadow Cabinet reshuffle, in which he axed an important 'green affairs' post and weakened Labour's stance against nuclear power, writes Nicholas Schoon.

The reshuffle has scotched long-held plans to give environ mental affairs powerful representation at Cabinet level in a Labour government. And the man in charge of energy policy is now Jack Cunningham, whose constituency includes British Nuclear Fuels' Sellafield reprocessing plant and who is one of Labour's few senior enthusiasts for nuclear power.

'Does he understand what he has done?' asked Charles Secrett, director of Friends of the Earth, of Mr Blair's reshuffle. After five years in which the Shadow Cabinet contained a spokesman dealing solely with environmental protection, that position has now been axed. The last incumbent, the Islington MP Chris Smith, has become national heritage spokesman. The green post in the Shadow Cabinet has been merged with other Department of the Environment responsibilities - housing, local government and planning - under Frank Dobson.

'We've been kicked in the teeth,' said one environmental adviser in the party. At Friends of the Earth, Mr Secrett said: 'These are hugely retrograde steps. We cannot see how Labour could ever deliver on its ambitious environmental promises without having stronger representation in Cabinet.'

Mr Smith, highly regarded in the environmental protection post, fought to position Labour as anti-nuclear. The agreed policy was to reduce nuclear power's role and not build new stations. Environmentalists say Mr Cunningham, whose trade and industry brief encompasses energy, may change this.

Mr Dobson, now shadow to John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, will soon appoint a Labour environmental affairs spokesman - outside the Shadow Cabinet.

The changes were defended by Mr Smith: 'There's no question of going back on our policies. The Government was refusing to give environmental affairs a stronger representation in Cabinet . . . the opposition is forced to mirror them.'

Andrew Warren, director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, said: 'Labour may think the voters no longer care so much about the environment, but as economic recovery gathers pace, green issues are going to move up the political agenda.'