Smith to reshuffle team

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JOHN SMITH, the Labour leader, is planning top-level changes in his Shadow Cabinet after an expected shift towards the soft-left in elections later this week.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Jack Cunningham looks certain to be demoted after 'a year of near-invisibility' dominated by Douglas Hurd'sadroit handling of the Maastricht crisis and involvement in Bosnia.

His post is likely to go to one of Labour's most able front-bench performers, Robin Cook, who has been in combat with Michael Heseltine, the President of the Board of Trade, over pit closures and the elusive economic recovery.

In turn, the DTI portfolio may be given to John Prescott, Transport, as a reward for his performance that pushed Labour's conference in favour of John Smith's 'one member, one vote' party reforms last month. Alternatively, Mr Prescott could be moved up to Employment, taking on David Hunt, the aggressive rising star of John Major's Cabinet.

Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor, who topped last year's poll, will probably slip several places in the pecking order, but his position as chief Treasury spokesman is not thought to be at risk.

One certain casualty of the reshuffle, say MPs, will be Ann Taylor, Shadow Education Secretary, who has won dismal ratings for her performance. A teachers' boycott of testing for seven-year-olds has forced Education Secretary John Patten into a series of humiliating climbdowns, but Labour has not benefited noticeably.

Another vulnerable figure is David Clark, Shadow Defence Secretary, who has been criticised for his low profile during a busy year for defence.

This year's Shadow Cabinet elections see the introduction of a requirement on Labour MPs to vote for five women contenders. Dawn Primarolo and Joyce Quinn are tipped as favourites for the extra place.

Mr Smith accused John Major yesterday of being 'a prisoner of the extreme right- wing ideologues in his party', and asked: 'Why is it that the Tories always try to find scapegoats for their own dismal failure? It used to be the last Labour government. Then it was the unions.

'Now it's single mothers and foreigners. What a pathetic display of bigotry and sneering nastiness. What a dismal failure to address the real, serious questions of social need.'

Addressing a party regional conference in Cambridge, the Labour leader said Tory demands for a return to 'old core values' was Majorspeak for: 'Our policies have failed, but we have nothing else to offer.' Mr Smith said tax increases already announced would cost the average family pounds 8.50 a week, and the Chancellor would put taxes up even further in his 30 November Budget. 'When people are hit with their extra fuel bills and receive their reduced pay packets, they will see just how much they have been deceived by a government which speaks the language of low taxation but can't stop putting taxes up.'

Gordon Brown will outline measures to raise revenue without hitting consumers this week, including abolition of tax relief on executive share option schemes, tighter regulations on non-domiciled taxation and closure of petroleum revenue loopholes.