Smith likely to give more senior posts to women

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Indy Politics
JOHN SMITH is to finalise his remaining frontbench appointments early this week and get Labour's show back on the road with a full Shadow Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, despite the recess.

Senior Labour figures signalled an attack on the economy, with Gordon Brown and Harriet Harman to highlight the Government's difficulties over the recession and spending, while Robin Cook in his new role at trade and industry will aim at Michael Heseltine.

Labour believes there is ground to gain in the gap it sees between Mr Heseltine's more interventionist views and those of John Major and Norman Lamont, the Chancellor, while Frank Dobson at employment will focus on the continued rise in unemployment.

Mr Smith's frontbench appointments will come amid speculation that he may cut the numbers from the 70-plus who supported Shadow Cabinet spokesmen at the time of the general election to something nearer 40.

Continuing dissatisfaction among Labour's women MPs at the profile given to women in the Shadow Cabinet appointments, and Mr Smith's concern to be seen to be answering that, suggests significant second rank posts for women - notably to support David Blunkett at health where he faces Virginia Bottomley and at employment where Mr Dobson is opposite Gillian Shepherd.

Strong showings in the Shadow Cabinet election results may point to a first frontbench post for Dawn Primarolo, the Bristol South MP from the left-wing Campaign group, who is seen by some Shadow Cabinet members as due for recognition, while Hilary Armstrong, a former education spokesperson, Joyce Quin who was at trade, and Clare Short also scored well.

Despite a flurry of activity to show the Opposition back in business, Mr Smith is likely to take much of the summer to think before making any substantive changes. Firm decisions on setting up the Commission on Social Justice that Mr Smith plans to tackle the future tax and benefits package are unlikely until the autumn, and a party conference whose agenda is loaded with resolutions about Labour's internal difficulties.

Speculation is also mounting - following Neil Kinnock's visit to Brussels last week and a lunch with John Major - that Mr Smith may make Mr Kinnock Labour's nomination as the EC Commissioner to replace Bruce Millan at the end of the year.

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