Younger MPs fail to make Blair's team

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR will execute a wide-ranging reshuffle of the Shadow Cabinet today after elections failed to deliver the new-look young team for which some of the Labour leader's closest supporters had hoped.

Robin Cook, shadow Trade and Industry Secretary, comfortably topped the poll in an election that saw Margaret Beckett, the former deputy leader, and Harriet Harman, shadow Chief Secretary, propelled back into the Shadow Cabinet with high votes.

The only first-time entrant was Gavin Strang, the agriculture spokesman and one of a handful of front-bench members with experience as a minister.

Despite earlier indications from the Cook camp that he was reluctant to take the post of shadow Foreign Secretary, there were strong signs last night that he would be given the post - a key one in the run-up to the 1996 intergovernmental conference on the future of the European Union.

Despite performing creditably, a number of close Blair allies failed to secure places in a new Shadow Cabinet that once again has five women among its members.

Mr Blair was said by aides last night to be pleased with the new team and confident that it would help to give the party a sharp campaigning edge. He will be pleased that two of the ablest shadow ministers significantly improved their positions: Donald Dewar, shadow Social Security Secretary, moved to fourth place with 142 votes, and George Robertson, shadow Scottish Secretary, came seventh with 126 votes.

But there was disappointment among the younger MPs, especially those who came into Parliament at the 1992 election, that some long- standing shadow ministers had held their places against challenges by younger rivals.

Joan Lestor, Michael Meacher, the left-backed shadow civil service minister, and Jack Cunningham, shadow Foreign Secretary, all kept their places, the latter with a vote that increased from 107 last year to 120. Tom Clarke, heavily criticised for his attacks on the Labour high command during the Monklands by-election, lost his Shadow Cabinet seat.

One of the principal virtues of the new line-up is that it makes it easier for Mr Blair to tighten his grip on the economic team.

One scenario suggested last night was that Dr Cunningham, on the party's right wing, would take the DTI portfolio and Ms Harman, who after losing her place last year came fifth, reflecting the success of the Labour campaign against tax rises, could move to Employment. Gordon Brown is certain to remain Shadow Chancellor.

The likelihood that Mr Blair will appoint a new Northern Ireland spokesman was sharply increased after the incumbent Kevin McNamara again failed to get on the Shadow Cabinet and saw his vote reduced from 87 to 70.

Familiar faces, page 8