The Labour Party in Blackpool: Cunningham leads the catwalk show

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR'S first big test, according to close colleagues, will be how ruthless he can be over his Shadow Cabinet reshuffle after the elections on 19 October. Insiders predict a full reshuffle to sharpen up the team. Blackpool is therefore a beauty parade for front- benchers, showing off their finer points to the comrades.

Jack Cunningham, the shadow Foreign Secretary, is most at risk, having come bottom in last year's Shadow Cabinet elections. Mr Blair also has the task of finding a new shadow Home Secretary to fill the vacancy created when he became leader.

Robin Cook, trade and industry spokesman, is tipped for promotion. He wanted the shadow Chancellor's portfolio, but Mr Blair has made it clear he is honouring his debt to Gordon Brown and avoiding risks by keeping him in charge of Treasury affairs.

Mr Cook's friends say he has discussed the home affairs brief with Mr Blair but has been ruled out on the ground that a Scottish MP cannot be responsible for law and order in England and Wales. So Mr Cook may be trying out Russian hats for winter travel abroad with the foreign affairs role. One snag is that his beard may give him a striking resemblance to Lenin.

Mr Blair also has the tricky job of placing Margaret Beckett, after her unsuccessful campaign for the leadership. He may give her the task of lifting Labour's image on education, and leave the home affairs portfolio to Jack Straw.

The chief whip, Derek Foster, has also been active at the conference securing his votes in the Parliamentary Labour Party against the twin challenge by Peter Kilfoyle, a hard-fighting junior whip, and Dick Caborn, chairman of the trade and industry select committee.

Mr Foster was annoyed by a BBC report suggesting Mr Kilfoyle may have the support of Mr Blair's office. The Chief Whip was given an assurance by Mr Blair's office that it was not so. Moreover, Mr Blair made it clear he regarded Mr Foster as a neighbour (they have next-door seats in the North-east) and a friend.

Mr Caborn is a close friend of John Prescott, the deputy leader, who commands great support in the whips' office. But Mr Foster believes he has the votes of enough Prescott supporters to win on the first ballot.

THERE is growing unease among some of Mr Blair's senior colleagues at how Labour is acquiring the piety of Christian socialism. There are worries that Labour will soon be able to claim that the Church of England is the Labour Party at prayer. Frank Dobson, the rumbustious transport spokesman, has decided to stop it all, by founding LAAAAR - Labour Agnostics and Atheists against All Religion. Other colleagues fear the adoption of family values as a Blair theme may open the leader's young family to unwanted press attention, particularly if the Blairs bus their eldest boy from Islington next year to the Oratory, a grant-maintained Kensington school.

SHADOW CABINET colleagues were speculating on the possible lost votes to Mo Mowlam in the NEC elections over her suggestion that the Queen should have a new palace. Yesterday, her partner, Jon Norton, a City banker, advocated the legalisation of cannabis. It is unclear what effect that will have in the Shadow Cabinet elections.

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