Meacher vows to fight on the back benches

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Indy Politics

Michael Meacher, the veteran minister sacked in Tony Blair's latest reshuffle, has promised to campaign from the back benches on a long list of radical causes.

After serving for six years as Minister for the Environment, he has vowed to continue his campaign to warn of the dangers of an over-hasty introduction of genetically modified crops in Britain.

But he added: "I don't just want to talk about green issues, but about a whole range of things on which I'm free to speak, for the first time in 20 years. There are issues of income distribution and constitutional issues, including the centralisation of power in the hands of the Prime Minister, the power of the media, the unaccountability of party funding, and the role of big business. There's a huge agenda I want to address."

Mr Meacher is one of the most experienced politicians on the Labour side, having been on the front bench for the entire period that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have been in the Commons.

He was the last member of Tony Blair's government, apart from his former boss, the Secretary of State for the Environment Margaret Beckett, to have held office in the previous Labour government in the 1970s. In opposition, he was elected to the Shadow Cabinet 13 years in succession, from 1983 to 1997 - a record never equalled by any other Labour MP. His resignation from the government on Friday was widely criticised by environmental organisations.

Mr Blair's reshuffle was complicated by the unexpected resignation of the Secretary of State for Health, Alan Milburn, and a wrangle behind the scenes over the decision to abolish the ancient post of Lord Chancellor.

Mr Blair had considered recreating a new justice ministry, but became locked into an argument with the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, who objected to having his department's powers stripped away. There were also objections when it seemed that Mr Blair had closed down the Scotland and Wales offices, incorporating them in a new Department of Constitutional Affairs under his old flatmate, Lord Falconer.

George Foulkes, a former minister loyal to Mr Blair, admitted that the rushed reorganisation "will have caused some confusion".

He added: "I think the lack of trust in Tony Blair is not justified but I must say that, for those who don't trust him, the events of the reshuffle won't help to improve the situation. I think it - well, can I use a Downing Street expression? - it looked a wee bit hazy."

There has also been criticism of the fact that the new Health Secretary, John Reid, has held four different cabinet posts in four years. His previous job as Leader of the House lasted just three months.

Estelle Morris, the former cabinet minister who has returned to the Government as a junior minister for arts, said that he should spend longer in his present job.

Miss Morris, whose resignation as Secretary of State for Education last October was the cause of one of Dr Reid changes of job, told BBC's Any Questions? programme: "In the ideal world I don't think you should move on that quickly. I think you should stay to master the brief."