Mowlam's real job - minister for the Today programme

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Indy Politics

MO MOWLAM becomes the "Minister for the Today programme" and will be taking a higher profile than ever as the leading government spokesperson in the run-up to the general election.

MO MOWLAM becomes the "Minister for the Today programme" and will be taking a higher profile than ever as the leading government spokesperson in the run-up to the general election.

She resisted the move in July, arguing that she wanted a "proper" ministry, running her own department with a budget. As the Minister for the Cabinet Office, she will have a wide-ranging role over the whole Government, with responsibility for improving the presentation and co-ordination of policy. She will also take on responsibility for GM foods, the anti-drugs campaign and modernising government.

As a supporter of Tony Blair, and a leading moderniser when Neil Kinnock was the Labour leader, Ms Mowlam will carry conviction, and will be buoyed by public goodwill from her efforts at the Northern Ireland Office to bring peace to Ulster.

Her second-in-command, Lord Falconer, is a former lawyer friend of the Blairs, who was in charge of telling more senior cabinet colleagues to pull their socks up before the reshuffle.

In tandem, Ms Mowlam and Lord Falconer may be able to make the Cabinet Office a power base to be respected by cabinet colleagues, which Jack Cunningham failed to achieve.

In a government full of grey-suited ministers unerringly "on message" Ms Mowlam has won public sympathy for her down-to-earth manner and cheerful disregard for presentational niceties. She threw open the gates of the once-hallowed bastion of Unionist rule, Stormont, to Sir Elton John for an outdoor rock concert. Instead of the usual garden party at her Hillsborough residence, she hosted a children's party, with pop stars, hot dogs and a bouncy castle. Her bluntness was legendary. During the negotiations leading up to last year's Good Friday Agreement, she was overheard telling the Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams, to "bloody well get on and do it, otherwise I'll head-butt you".

She was not afraid to take risks in the search for peace, making an unprecedented visit for a Secretary of State to loyalist paramilitaries in the Maze prison to secure their continuing support for the talks.

However her "touchy-feely" style did not always go down well in the notoriously stiff-necked, macho world of Northern Ireland politics. Sending her bodyguards out to buy tights and lipstick and declaring it was her mission to "civilise the Ulster male" was never going to endear her to traditional Unionists who already suspected she was too sympathetic to the nationalist cause for their liking.

MO MOWLAM, 49, Chancellor for Duchy of Lancaster, Minister for the Cabinet Office.

Strength: outspoken, fund of public goodwill.

Weakness: the "woolly" job she did not want.

Cabinet rating: illness set her back, and Ulster politics ground her down, but she's a fighter.

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