Cabinet defies Blair in power struggle

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair's authority was ebbing away last night as details emerged of how he was repeatedly forced by members of his Cabinet to cave in during a chaotic attempt to give his government a post-election shake-up.

Tony Blair's authority was ebbing away last night as details emerged of how he was repeatedly forced by members of his Cabinet to cave in during a chaotic attempt to give his government a post-election shake-up.

John Prescott, Charles Clarke and Ruth Kelly are among ministers who defied Mr Blair as he tried to reshuffle his Cabinet to concentrate power in the hands of Blairite modernisers.

Mr Prescott flatly refused to cede control of local government to David Blunkett while Mr Clarke was furious at plans to strip the Home Office of its responsibility for curbing anti-social behaviour.

This week, the Prime Minister will have to reassert his authority over the Labour Party after a bruising election campaign. Despite a 66-seat majority in the House of Commons, several MPs are openly calling for Mr Blair to hand over the reins of power to Gordon Brown much sooner than the four years he has said he will stay on in office.

The most striking illustration of how hobbled Mr Blair has become is the behaviour of the Cabinet's newest recruit, Ms Kelly. The Education Secretary refused to accept a transfer to a different cabinet post as treasury chief secretary, fearing that it would be seen as demotion.

But the most furious arguments behind the scenes were over the role of David Blunkett, whom the Prime Minister was determined to bring back to the Cabinet just six months after his resignation. Mr Blair wanted Mr Blunkett to take charge of local government, part of the remit of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

"Blunkett basically wanted John Prescott's job, and John assigned to a role of Deputy Prime Minister without departmental responsibility," a senior minister said. "John would have found it very hard to work with 'Blunks'."

The former Home Secretary was briefly considered for the job of health secretary before being made Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. "It was a typical No 10 shambles. Utter cock-up," one senior figure said last night.

Tomorrow, Mr Blair is expected to make changes in the middle ranks of government, sacking some of the older ministers to bring in fresh faces. The task had to wait until he knew the fate of his Foreign Office minister, Bill Rammell, who clung on to his seat in Harlow, Essex, by just 97 votes after three recounts.

Among MPs going public this weekend in calling for Mr Blair to stand down soon were Clive Efford, Jon Trickett and John Austin, none of them seen as "usual suspects". Mr Blair's allies, meanwhile, disclosed he is thinking of quitting in July 2008.

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