London's Olympic bid may get a new full-time minister

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Indy Politics

A minister for the Olympics could be appointed as part of the summer reshuffle, to increase London's chances of securing the Games in 2012.

Tony Blair is said to be seriously considering setting up a full-time post to give additional firepower to the capital's bid, which is facing tough competition from Paris, New York, Madrid and Moscow.

Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, currently has overall responsibility for the bid within the Government, alongside her other duties, while Bill Rammell, a Foreign Office minister, has been tasked with wooing overseas support for London's bid.

But ministerial backers of the bid say a full-time position would give it a much-needed boost, amid reports of infighting following the sidelining of the former chairman, Barbara Cassani, who was replaced by Lord Coe earlier this year.

Those in favour say a senior political figure from outside London would emphasise the British nature of the bid and give an outward sign of the Government's commitment to hosting the Games.

Members of the International Olympic Committee will make a decision next July on who will host the games in 2012. A victory for London would provide a major political boost for the Government.

Members of the Parliamentary all-party Olympic group have been pressing for a full-time cabinet post devoted to pressing for London's bid, pointing to the success of Ian McCartney, the then Cabinet Office minister, who was appointed as a government "troubleshooter" before the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 1999.

Derek Wyatt, chairman of the all-party Olympic group, said Britain's main rivals for the games already had ministers in place and warned against delaying an appointment.

He said: "Seb Coe has had to break eggs in order to make an omelette, but he is facing around and he cannot handle all the Government side of the bid. "We need a big city player and a big political hitter - and that should be a minister. Sydney had a minister in charge of the bid before they won it.

"[Tessa Jowell] cannot do that and BBC charter renewal, obesity and everything else. This is a single issue and we need a single position dedicated to it. We need a big hitter."

A cabinet reshuffle could come as early as tomorrow although ministers believe it may be announced next week.

Mr McCartney could lose his job as Labour Party chairman after membership slumped to a historic low. Alan Johnson, the higher education minister and former postman who rose to lead the Communication Workers Union, is being strongly tipped for promotion to the Cabinet having won plaudits in Downing Street for his handling of the Higher Education Bill.

One Whitehall source said: "He is brilliant. He can articulate things in a way people understand. We could do with a few more like him in the trade union movement. Ian McCartney has lost the confidence of the party."