Labour in Blackpool: Shadow Cabinet race begins: Many of its MPs want 'new Labour' to elect new faces to the front benches. Nicholas Timmins reports on likely changes

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The Independent Online
JOCKEYING has begun for election to the Shadow Cabinet, with Tony Blair having told colleagues that he plans a radical restructuring of portfolios as part of Labour's new look.

Its final outcome will depend on what hand he is dealt by the Parliamentary Labour Party. But Gordon Brown as shadow Chancellor and - with the Commission on Social Justice coming up - probably Donald Dewar at social security are seen as among the few fixed points at this stage.

MPs have to cast four of their 18 votes for women, a requirement which last year led to a protest vote by some MPs for women who had no chance of election, in the process removing Harriet Harman, the shadow Chief Secretary.

John Smith defiantly left her in the post. Since then her stock has risen, with MPs expecting her and Margaret Beckett to take the two vacancies created by the elevation of Tony Blair and John Prescott to the leadership.

Many younger MPs are hoping for more sweeping changes to provide Mr Blair with new faces to promote his 'new Labour'. Tom Clarke, the overseas development spokesman and Monklands West MP, is widely expected to be voted off after his allegations of 'McCarthyite smears' during the Monklands East by-election.

Some MPs also see Joan Lestor, re-elected to the Shadow Cabinet last year; Ann Taylor, whose performance in the education portfolio has not impressed backbenchers; and possibly Michael Meacher, who has held increasingly low-profile portfolios in recent years, as vulnerable.

The new generation hoping for advancement includes Alun Michael, who has starred in holding the Home Office portfolio since Mr Blair became leader; Tony Lloyd, an employment spokesman; and Derek Fatchett from the trade and industry team. Brian Wilson, the rail spokesman, is some Shadow Cabinet members' tip to achieve the feat of leaping straight in at his first attempt. But being a Scot may reduce his chances when the Shadow Cabinet already has five.

However the most likely candidates to join or rejoin the top team include Ann Clwyd, Joyce Quin and Clare Short, all of whom were within half a dozen votes of being elected last time. Success for them could provide a distinctive female edge, with at least five women in Mr Blair's top team.

The chances of new faces are, however, limited by regional blocks, left-right pressures, the requirement to vote for four women, and a range of other trade-offs in which talent does not always feature. As one candidate put it, 'most MPs use one-third of their votes to vote for merit, one-third for their friends and the other third to stop other people getting on'. This year, however, the decision of Nick Brown, the Newcastle East MP, to stand himself rather than organise others' campaigns may reduce the effectiveness of the northern block vote.

Depending on who is elected, Mr Blair faces the dilemma of what post to give Margaret Beckett when it is perceived that the Home Office portfolio he has vacated needs the same blend of values and toughness that Mr Blair brought to it. Jack Straw or David Blunkett are some people's tips, Mr Blunkett's left-wing reputation belying his relatively right-wing views on many social issues. He stresses responsibilities every bit as much as rights.

Many MPs expect Jack Cunningham to be moved from the Foreign Secretary's post if he survives, having come bottom of the winners last year. Robin Cook has been seen by some as a possible replacement. But he wants to retain an economic portfolio and there has been reported friction this week between him and Mr Blair over Clause IV. The chance that Brian Wilson might be elected has prompted speculation that George Robertson, the party's former European spokesman, could move effortlessly into the shadow Foreign Secretary role.

With Mr Blair making education such a central part of the political battleground, Harriet Harman's name has been linked to education by some. There has also been widespread speculation that Kevin McNamara, the Northern Ireland spokesman, may not retain his brief if he fails again to be elected to the Shadow Cabinet. With Northern Ireland likely to be centre-stage over the coming years, some MPs believe the post needs to be in the Shadow Cabinet, although the present line-up contains no obvious candidate.

(Photograph omitted)

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