Blair replaces Brown as head of Labour's general election machine

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Gordon Brown has been ousted from the role he has performed for almost a decade, as the man who prepares and organises Labour's general election campaigns.

Tony Blair has decided to take charge of the next election campaign personally, to ensure that there is no let-up in his drive to portray Labour as a radical, modernising party.

The news of Mr Blair's decision was sprung on cabinet colleagues on Thursday afternoon, when they met to hear warnings from opinion pollsters that public trust in the Government is slipping dangerously.

Ian McCartney, the party chairman, astonished fellow ministers - not least Mr Brown - when he announced in passing that Mr Blair had decided to become a member of the election campaign strategy group, which Mr Brown normally heads.

A close friend of the Chancellor said: "Like other colleagues, Gordon was taken by surprise, but these are of course decisions for the Prime Minister."

Privately, Brown's allies are furious at what they see as a public snub to the Chancellor, which could open a new round of backstage bickering over public service reform. However, Mr Blair may be seeking to fortify his position as he braces himself for the prospect of losing his director of communications, Alastair Campbell.

Sally Morgan, the Prime Minister's director of government relations, has been privately canvassing opinions on what should be done if Mr Campbell resigns after nine years as Mr Blair's right-hand man. Mr Campbell's partner, Fiona Millar, is reputed to want Mr Campbell to find a job that will allow him more time with their children.

Mr Blair has recently shown signs of wanting to regroup the scattered forces of the Blairite modernisers. Stephen Byers, who was forced to resign from the Cabinet last year, has been brought back to work on preparing the next election manifesto.