Out with the new... Miliband invites Blairite stalwarts to join Shadow Cabinet

Lord Faulkner among the heavyweights set to return to Labour's top table
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Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the former Lord Chancellor and friend and ally of Tony Blair, is set to return to frontline politics when Ed Miliband uses his new power to choose the Shadow Cabinet to try to improve Labour's performance.

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Lord Falconer backed David Miliband in last year's Labour leadership struggle but has urged the party to rally behind Ed. He is regarded as the sort of experienced "big beast" the Shadow Cabinet has lacked in the past year.

The Labour leader will also offer a place in his top team to Alan Johnson, who resigned as shadow Chancellor in January for personal reasons. Although Mr Johnson has not ruled out a comeback before the next election, he is unlikely to return in the next reshuffle.

John Healey is expected to lose his post as shadow Health Secretary, although he may switch to a different role in the Shadow Cabinet. The crucial health job is expected to go to Andy Burnham, a former Health Secretary who currently holds the education brief.

Others in the top team who may be moved include Meg Hillier, the shadow Energy Secretary, and Caroline Flint, the shadow Communities Secretary.

Junior frontbenchers tipped for a promotion to the Shadow Cabinet include Rachel Reeves, spokeswoman on pensions, and Michael Dugher, a defence spokesman, who both entered the Commons at last year's election. Other new MPs who have impressed the party leadership and may move up the ladder include junior frontbenchers Gloria De Piero and Liz Kendall, and backbencher Tristram Hunt.

Mr Miliband has not yet decided when to carry out his reshuffle. Some Labour MPs are pressing him to freshen up his team next month, but others say there is no rush and that he could wait until after David Cameron carries out a Cabinet shake-up, which is expected next spring.

A rule change approved by this week's Labour conference in Liverpool handed the party leader the power to choose the Shadow Cabinet. Until now, its members have been elected every two years by Labour MPs, with posts allocated by the leader.

This system was criticised for sparking a "beauty contest" among ambitious Labour figures, some of whom were accused of spending too much time wooing the party's backbenchers. Lord Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister, has urged Mr Miliband to drop some lightweights from the Shadow Cabinet to make way for more heavy hitters. He said: "This is a Tory government that's doing some outrageous things and we haven't had many words of protest." He told Mr Miliband: "Ed, you're the leader, get a Shadow Cabinet who'll do that."

Yesterday, the Labour leader insisted he had great confidence in his Shadow Cabinet. "I think it is an excellent team," he told Sky News.

Amid speculation that a reshuffle is imminent, shadow ministers may have had their last chance to impress Mr Miliband when they made their speeches at this week's conference.

In an unofficial "beauty contest" yesterday, Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, topped a poll of the readers of the LabourList website, who were asked to rate the performance of the party's senior frontbenchers. She was followed by her husband, Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, with Mr Burnham third, then Douglas Alexander, the shadow Foreign Secretary, and Harriet Harman, the deputy leader, who shadows international development.

The bottom five places were occupied by Mary Creagh, who speaks on the environment; Rosie Winterton, the chief whip; Ms Hillier; Shaun Woodward, the Northern Ireland spokesman; and Ann McKechin, who holds the Scottish brief.

Some Labour insiders believe the party's progress in Mr Miliband's first year as leader has been hampered by the weak performance by some Shadow Cabinet members. They suspect that some former ministers have not adjusted well to opposition, while other shadow ministers lack experience and have struggled.