Cabinet Reshuffle: The winners and losers

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Indy Politics

UP: MARGARET HODGE, MINISTER OF STATE FOR CHILDREN

Close to Tony Blair ever since she lived a few doors away from him in Islington during the birth of New Labour. An extrovert and outspoken politician, she became an aggressive moderniser following bitter personal experience of Labour's "loony left" in London in the 1980s. Her critics are guaranteed to resurrect the fact that she was leader of Islington council when youngsters in its children's homes were subjected to sexual abuse. She admitted she was ultimately responsible for the "appalling" state of the homes. But Mr Blair has never wavered in his admiration for the MP for Barking, bringing her into Government as an Education minister in his first 1998 reshuffle. Ms Hodge has certainly never shunned the headlines, famously attacking the "Mickey Mouse" courses run by some of the newer universities. She impressed the Prime Minister with her handling of the Higher Education brief during the long and tortuous drafting of policy on student tuition fees.

OUT: MICHAEL MEACHER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER

The departure of Michael Meacher was condemned by green groups last night. One of the few ministers to have held the same post since Labour came to power in 1997, he was also the last minister from Harold Wilson's 1974-76 administration to survive in government. Mr Meacher, a one-time ally of Tony Benn, was never a soulmate of Tony Blair, who refused to appoint him to his Cabinet in 1997, although he was a member of the Shadow Cabinet. But his green credentials gave the Government some cover. He took a strong line against GM foods and crops, and pushed through the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 for greater protection for Britain's wildlife areas.

At 63, his departure had been widely predicted but will damage the Blair administration in the eyes of the environmental lobby. Tony Juniper, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said: "Everyone who cares about the environment will be sad to see Mr Meacher leave."

BACK: ESTELLE MORRIS, ARTS MINISTER

The return to the Government of Estelle Morris will be widely welcomed at Westminster and beyond. She won respect and sympathy when she stood down as Secretary of State for Education last October, saying the job was too much for her. The Blairite Ms Morris, 50, makes a swift comeback as Arts minister, a job below Cabinet rank. She said she was "delighted" to be back in Government but admitted, in typically honest fashion, that she had a lot to learn about her new portfolio. "I know I don't have a hugely strong background in this, so it will be a huge challenge," she said. Ms Morris added: "I feel rested and I've learned some lessons. I know I can exist without a post in Government, therefore I've not come back just because it's a job in Government."

The daughter of an MP and a former teacher, Ms Morris impressed as minister for Schools before winning her surprise promotion on the recommendation of David Blunkett, her political mentor.

UP: ALAN JOHNSON, MINISTER FOR HIGHER EDUCATION

Alan Johnson has moved effortlessly up the Government ranks just as he rose from being a postman to become the general secretary of the Communication Workers Union. He entered Parliament as member for Hull West and Hessle in 1997.

He underlined his longheld loathing of left-wing Labour and union activists this year by claiming that the new breed of union leaders came from "planet Zog". Citing the "finger-jabbing" debate on employment rights last autumn as evidence of the rising militancy of trade union leadership, Mr Johnson said: "The TUC left planet Zog 20-odd years ago, but a few union leaders go back for the occasional day trip." A keen rock music fan, he will be the first Higher Education minister who did not go to university from school. But, like John Prescott and many other union figures before him, he did attend Ruskin College, Oxford, in the 1990s.

UP: FIONA MACTAGGART, JUNIOR HOME OFFICE MINISTER

The great granddaughter of Sir John MacTaggart, the treasurer of the first branch of the Labour Party under Keir Hardie, the Slough MP would appear to have strong roots in the Labour movement. But she is best known for rejecting the Conservative inheritance of her multi-millionaire father, a Glasgow property tycoon and Tory baronet. Educated at Cheltenham Ladies' College and Kings College London, Ms MacTaggart was a primary school teacher in London before working for a string of organisations. To underline the contrast with her father, a right-wing member of the Monday Club, she worked for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and Liberty before entering Parliament in 1997. Nevertheless, she is one of the richest MPs after her father left her a fifth of his £6m estate on his death. She has long battled on behalf of women's rights. She has been receiving chemotherapy for cancer over the past year but is judged well enough to take on her new job.

UP: PHIL WOOLAS, COMMONS DEPUTY LEADER

Has won plaudits within the Labour Party as a canny and hard-headed politician ever since he became president of the National Union of Students in the mid-1980s. An ultra-loyal Blairite, the former TV journalist and communications chief for the GMB union first came to national prominence when he fought the 1995 by-election in Littleborough and Saddleworth by attacking his Liberal Democrat opponent's views on drugs. He won the recast Oldham East and Saddleworth seat in 1997. Mr Woolas was moved into the anonymity of the whips' office in 2001. His new job will give him a further chance to do what he does best, working the tea room and bars at Westminster to gauge the mood of fellow Labour MPs. A staunch opponent of the BNP, he triggered controversy this year by claiming that racist attacks by Asians on whites in his constituency were being ignored. It is understood he won private plaudits from David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, for his remarks.

OUT: NICK BROWN, MINISTER FOR WORK

Nick Brown's final public duty as a minister was to defend Tony Blair's reshuffle on television. Although he put up a spirited performance on BBC1's Question Time on Thursday, he must have known he was going soon. He has had 18 unbroken years on the Labour front bench, becoming a close ally of Gordon Brown. A skilled backroom operator, schooled in the darker arts of political persuasion, he was a natural choice for Chief Whip after the Labour victory of 1997. A year later, he was switched to what seemed to be the Whitehall backwater of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. There, he fell foul of a Sunday newspaper, which exposed his private life. He was also the wrong person in the wrong place when the foot-and-mouth epidemic struck in 2001.At the Chancellor's insistence, he was given a consolation prize and appointed Minister of State for Work in the Department for Work and Pensions in 2001, with the right to attend the Cabinet.

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