Left is cold-shouldered for final front bench team

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Indy Politics
Tony Blair yesterday completed his shake-up of frontbench junior and middle ranks, with the 1992 intake accounting for 16 of the 20 promotions and a record 19 women now holding jobs or serving as whips.

The Labour leader also sent a clear signal of his determination to tackle welfare reform, appointing Malcolm Wicks, the former director of the Family Policy Studies Centre, and the arch-moderniser, John Denham, to join Chris Smith's social security team.

The final shuffle after last week's Shadow Cabinet elections did not, reportedly, come without pockets of resistance. And as new Labour continued in the ascendant, eight frontbenchers lost their jobs - six of them were sacked.

Despite the backlash against new Labour in last week's elections for the top posts, in the entire 79-strong frontbench - including the elected members - left-wingers now account for barely 10 per cent.

Mr Blair has responded to last week's rebuff by making substantial changes in the junior ranks, the springboard for potential ministerial office if the Labour Party wins the general election.

The rewards for the new intake - including some economic jobs - contrast with last year's much more cautious exercise which saw Mr Blair criticised for making bright newcomers serve apprenticeships as whips before being promoted to the front bench.

Twelve of those made junior spokesmen yesterday entered parliament in 1992 or later, and five of these have shot into jobs straight from the back benches: they are Alan Milburn (health), Helen Liddell (Scotland), Mr Denham and Mr Wicks (social security) and Mike O'Brien (Treasury).

Ms Liddell's appointment ranks as particularly noteworthy; she has been in parliament barely a year after winning last year's Monklands East by- election. There are a further 14 female frontbenchers and four female whips.

The other promotions from the ranks of last year's whips' appointments are Peter Mandelson (a spokesman on the Civil Service), Gordon McMaster (disabled people's rights), Estelle Morris (education), Jim Dowd (Northern Ireland), Geoff Hoon (trade and industry - information technology), and Barbara Roche (trade and industry) and Stephen Byers (education).

Mr Mandelson, the party's former spin-doctor-in-chief, will be part of the team headed by John Prescott, the deputy party leader, which includes Derek Foster, shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Alongside his role as a spokesman on the Civil Service, Mr Mandelson will also have responsibilities for campaigns in key seats around the country in the next general election. He will, in addition, work with Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, on election strategy and communications.

The new faces in the whips' office include Janet Anderson, Ann Coffey, Jane Kennedy, Greg Pope, Bridgit Prentice and Peter Hain. Mr Hain, the "soft" left-winger who entered parliament after the 1991 Neath by-election, bucks the modernising trend. He has criticised Mr Blair's modernisation of Labour, but is respected for his parliamentary work.

Nicholas Brown, who has served in the economic and health teams, will succeed Don Dixon as deputy chief whip after a transitional period.

The new blood would "have the chance to prove themselves in advance of government, should we get there", a party aide said.

MPs no longer on the frontbench are: Martyn Jones (agriculture), Martin O'Neill (trade and industry), Joan Walley (transport), Robin Corbett (disabled people's rights), Maria Fyfe (Scotland), David Hinchliffe (health) and Donald Anderson (law officer). Eric Martlew has been moved from the defence team to the whips' office.

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