Brown moves deckchairs around his Cabinet table

Blairites promoted to fill the gaps left by political soulmates / Jowell and Cooper move up as PM tries to answer female critics

Andrew Adonis, the son of a Greek-Cypriot postman, pulled one of the biggest surprises in yesterday's extraordinary ministerial reshuffle, by entering the Cabinet as Transport Secretary. It was one of several promotions that turned it into a day of triumph for old Blairities.

Winded by the sudden resignation of Tony Blair's old ally James Purnell, and knowing that another Blairite, John Hutton, was leaving his Cabinet, Gordon Brown bent over backwards to prevent a renewed outbreak of the old factional rivalry that has dominated Labour politics for more than a decade. Lord Mandelson, who used to be on such bad terms with Mr Brown that they reputedly did not speak to each other for years, is now deputy prime minister in all but name.

Although, for form's sake, he was listed third behind Labour's elected Deputy Leader Harriet Harman in the official Cabinet list yesterday, his new title of First Secretary of State makes his status explicit. The last person to hold the title of First Secretary was John Major's deputy, Michael Heseltine. Lord Mandelson also retained his job as Business Secretary, which means that for the first time in more than 50 years, two government departments are run by peers rather than MPs.

In political terms, Lord Adonis's elevation is the more controversial, because unlike Mandelson – who used to be MP for Hartlepool – he has never held an elected office, and in the 1980s he was a member of the short-lived Social Democratic Party. His route to the top was through being recruited by Tony Blair as a political adviser in Downing Street. There, it was said he was the real education secretary, driving through the controversial reform of the schools system.

When he was awarded a peerage in 2005, there was a poignant story in a tabloid newspaper, which had tracked down his English mother, who abandoned him when he was three. She had heard on the news that someone named Lord Adonis had been made a government minister, but had not realised that he was her son.

He was a bright boy who won a scholarship to a private school and then at Oxford University. As an adviser and education minister, he acquired a good reputation as someone dedicated to pulling the best state schools up to the standard of the leading private schools. Shifted sideways to the transport department, he reinvented himself as the transport minister who seemed to love trains.

Other Blairites who did well out of yesterday's changes included Andy Burnham, who might have been expected to resign along with his friend, James Purnell, but instead takes over as Health Secretary. Tessa Jowell, who was demoted by Mr Brown two years ago to a middle-ranking minister, is back as Cabinet Office minister to run the team.

The other big promotion is Alan Johnson as Home Secretary, which means the man most likely to succeed Mr Brown is holds one of the great offices of state.

For the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, staying put is a personal triumph after spin doctors spent days dropping hints that he was going to be moved because of the various revelations about his expenses.

In Brown's new team...

A serious contender

Andy Burnham

Burnham has given up a fun job in the Culture Department for a very important job as Health Secretary. He arrived in the Commons at exactly the same time as James Purnell and has been mentioned as an MP who has leadership potential. The two were seen as political soulmates, so Brown will be grateful to Burnham for staying in government. Before entering the Commons in 2001, he was a researcher and adviser to the cabinet ministers Tessa Jowell and Chris Smith.

In from the cold

Peter Hain

The former cabinet minister must have been surprised and delighted when he received the call offering him his old job as Welsh Secretary back. He is not short of ambition, and did not want to let go of his Cabinet seat in the first place, but was forced out because of the mess surrounding the accounts of his campaign for the party's deputy leadership in 2007. Hain was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing, paving the way for his return to the top table yesterday.

Rewarded for loyalty

Liam Byrne

Unusually for a Labour MP Byrne is a self-made businessman, an IT specialist who entered the Commons relatively late via a by-election in July 2004. He became a minister only one year later and in 2006, he was made a Home Office minister in charge of immigration, where he was seen to have handled the politically explosive brief well. He was the first minister to rally to Gordon Brown's defence after James Purnell's resignation on Thursday, so his elevation yesterday was no suprise.

The man from Auntie

Ben Bradshaw

The new Culture Secretary is a former BBC journalist who has held ministerial jobs at the Department of Environment, where he served as Fisheries minister and most recently at the Department of Health. He achieved a first in 1997 by declaring that he was gay before he was adopted as a Labour candidate and elected MP for Exeter. Other MPs had come out after their election but Bradshaw broke new ground, knowing he was up against a stridently anti-gay Conservative opponent.

Woman on the rise

Yvette Cooper

The wife of Children's Secretary Ed Balls takes control of Whitehall's biggest-spending department as Work and Pensions Secretary. Ms Cooper, a former Independent journalist, has been touted as an outside candidate for the Labour leadership. Although she is still only 40, she already has 10 years' government service under her belt. She performed admirably in her first cabinet position as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. But will the economist prosper out of her comfort zone?

On the fast track

Lord Adonis

Lord Adonis is not a popular figure in the Labour Party, because he was never elected and his route to power was as Tony Blair's adviser on education. But outside Westminster he built up a reputation first as someone who knew and cared about schools, and then as a Transport minister who cared about the railways (he recently went on a nationwide train tour to see for himself the state of the network). But his promotion means that another government department is run by an unelected peer.

A reliable ally

Bob Ainsworth

The new Defence Secretary did not get to where he is by being interesting. But he is reliable and loyal, and had a reputation for caring about the soldiers under his care as a middle-ranking minister at the Defence department. When he was deputy chief whip he accidentally set off a controversy when it emerged that a letter he had written to the Home Office about immigration had been ignored. The Immigration minister at the time, Beverley Hughes, resigned. Apart from that he has never caused any trouble.

Iraq dissenter returns

John Denham

Denham had been a successful minister under Tony Blair when he took the decision to stick to his principles and resign from the Cabinet in protest when Britain went to war in Iraq in 2003. He was out of office for four years until Gordon Brown, in a conciliatory gesture to old Iraq rebels, brought him back into his Cabinet and put him in charge of higher education. Now he has moved up the ladder, taking over Hazel Blears's old job as Communities Secretary.

New job neuters rival

Alan Johnson

The new Home Secretary could have precipitated Gordon Brown's downfall had he quit the Government. Instead he has been cemented into the new Cabinet with a promotion to Whitehall's trickiest department. Admirers say the former postman's remarkable life story and smooth media skills would make him a formidable opponent to David Cameron. Detractors counter that he lacks a killer instinct and made little real impact as Health Secretary.

Brunette's bombshell

Caroline Flint

The telegenic Blairite had been widely expected to follow her friend Hazel Blears out of the Government. Instead the Europe minister gave her backing to Mr Brown on Thursday night – only to storm out 24 hours later because she was not promoted. Her six years in office saw her move between the Home Office, Department of Health and the Foreign Office. A hugely ambitious minister, she kept knocking on the cabinet door – without seeing it open for her.

Next stop Europe?

Geoff Hoon

The former Transport Secretary, Chief Whip and Defence Secretary finally departs from the cabinet following weeks of miserable publicity about his expenses. One revelation was that he was claiming simultaneously for his London house and constituency home, for which he apologised "unreservedly" and paid back £384. But that may not be his reason for resigning. The job he really wants is to be the next European Commissioner, due to be appointed in the autumn. If he gets it, the Tories will not be able to sack him.

Caravan moves on

Margaret Beckett

The veteran Housing minister's decision to resign suggests that one of the longest careers in politics is now coming to an end. She is the only minister to have served under James Callaghan, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and for two months in 1994 she was the only woman ever to lead the Labour Party, as well as being the only woman Foreign Secretary in history. A surprise addition to Gordon Brown's Government in 2008, many had tipped her to move up in this reshuffle rather than leaving altogether.

Quiet end for Blairite

John Hutton

What was surprising about John Hutton's decision to quit was not that he did it, but that he did it so loyally. Hutton was a Blairite loyalist, a friend of Alan Milburn and Stephen Byers, who apparently forecast that Gordon Brown would be a disaster as Prime Minister. But yesterday, rather than siding with James Purnell, the former Defence Secretary left the Commons quietly, pleading family commitments. He will also vacate his seat in Barrow, Cumbria, at the election.

Blast from the past

Glenys Kinnock

It was thought that Mrs Kinnock's political career had ended when she decided not to run for the European Parliament again. But suddenly she is back, in her first government job, as minister for Europe, and will be a peer in her own right as well as being the wife of a peer, the former Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. She certainly knows about Europe, though it means another unelected politician in a sensitive post.

Strong man bows out

Tony McNulty

The chain-smoking Employment minister had been on political death row following the disclosure that he claimed expenses on the house where his parents lived. He will bow out of the Government after a decade, where he initially made his name as a strong-arm whip. He recovered from a turbulent spell as an Immigration minister to rebuild his political reputation as Policing minister. He even harboured ambitions at one time to become Home Secretary.

Parting shots: From the resignation letters

"I now believe your continued leadership makes a Conservative victory more, not less likely." JAMES PURNELL

"Several of the women attending Cabinet – myself included – have been treated by you as little more than female window dressing. I am not willing to attend Cabinet in a peripheral capacity any longer." CAROLINE FLINT

"I am returning to the grassroots (where I began), to political activism, and to the cut and thrust of political debate." HAZEL BLEARS

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