Milburn agrees election role as Blair faces down Brown

Alan Milburn returned to the Cabinet to take up a new post in charge of Labour policy last night as Tony Blair sought to get his ill-fated reshuffle back on track.

Alan Milburn returned to the Cabinet to take up a new post in charge of Labour policy last night as Tony Blair sought to get his ill-fated reshuffle back on track.

The countdown to a general election began as both Mr Blair and Michael Howard reshuffled their frontbench packs in an attempt to sharpen their parties' performance.

Mr Milburn was appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster after Mr Blair persuaded him to return to frontline politics less than 15 months after resigning his position as Health Secretary to spend more time with his family.

Blair aides said Mr Milburn would be Labour's "policy supremo" in the run-up to the election expected next May. The move threatens to create tensions with the Chancellor Gordon Brown, who is due to take overall charge of the party's election effort.

In negotiations with Mr Blair, Mr Milburn demanded a "proper job" which would give him control over the Labour manifesto. But this would infuriate the Chancellor, a long-standing foe of Mr Milburn.

A dispute is simmering between Blairites, who want a "bold" blueprint setting out a new round of reforms, and the more cautious Brown camp, which does not want a range of ill-thought-out policies that would blight a third term.

Mr Blair hopes that Mr Milburn's appointment will ensure a radical, Blairite manifesto. But Labour MPs fear it could be a recipe for damaging conflict between the Blair and Brown camps. One cabinet minister said: "Alan will be in charge of the manifesto and play a major role in election planning. Tony recognises Gordon's talent in election strategy, and this will ensure a radical manifesto with progressive policies based on Labour values." He added: "These things are like squalls but we will move on from this very quickly."

The Tory leader took Westminster by surprise by announcing changes to his front bench. The Tories contrasted Mr Howard's decisiveness with Mr Blair's dithering. But the shake-up ran into controversy as furious party moderates accused Mr Howard of "lurching to the right". He recalled the Thatcherite John Redwood, who becomes shadow secretary of state for deregulation (cutting red tape), and removed two moderates, Damian Green and John Bercow, from their posts at transport and international development respectively.

Alan Johnson won promotion to the Cabinet as Work and Pensions Secretary. A former postman who became leader of the Union of Communications Workers, he moves from Higher Education minister to take over from Andrew Smith, whose resignation on Monday caught Mr Blair off guard.

The Prime Minister was deeply impressed with Mr Johnson's performance in heading off a dangerous backbench Labour rebellion over university tuition fees.

Although the man who replaces the Brownite Mr Smith is a Blairite, he is seen as a conciliatory rather than tribal figure and the Brown camp appeared to be relaxed about his appointment.

The Chancellor is heavily involved in welfare policy and the Department of Work and Pensions has been seen as an arm of the Treasury. Mr Brown will now need to work closely with Mr Johnson at a time when welfare is rising fast up the political agenda.

Ian McCartney, the Labour Party chairman, saw off a move by Mr Blair to appoint Mr Milburn to his post, as The Independent disclosed on Tuesday. Mr McCartney won heavyweight support from Mr Brown and John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...