Lacklustre ministers face Blair purge

Andrew Grice@IndyPolitics
Sunday 04 July 1999 23:02

TONY BLAIR is drawing up plans for a wide-ranging purge of junior and middle-ranking ministers when he reshuffles his Cabinet later this month.

The shake-up, which some ministers had expected to take place this week, will be delayed because Mr Blair will continue to devote his efforts to the Irish peace process.

Changes at Cabinet level are likely to be kept to a minimum, but Mr Blair is impatient to axe lacklustre junior ministers to make room to promote rising stars from the Labour backbenches. "He wants the Government to sharpen up its act," one aide said yesterday.

Ministers who may bow out or move sideways include Tony Lloyd, the Foreign Office minister, who was criticised over the arms-to-Sierra Leone affair; Doug Henderson, the Armed Forces Minister; John Battle, the Energy Minister; George Mudie, a junior education minister and Glenda Jackson, the former actress who is Minister for Transport in London.

Lord Simon, the former BP chairman, has indicated that he is prepared to stand down as Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe, having achieved his goal of helping business preparations for eventual membership of the single currency.

At Cabinet level, the minister most at risk is Jack Cunningham, the minister for the Cabinet Office, who has come under fire for his handling of the GM foods controversy and has faced criticism over his spending on trips aboard.

His job as the Cabinet's "enforcer" may go to Lord Falconer, a close friend and former flatmate of Mr Blair. Cabinet ministers said yesterday that he had performed much of the behind-the-scenes troubleshooting originally earmarked for Mr Cunningham.

The Cabinet-level changes hinge on the future of Mo Mowlam, the Northern Ireland Secretary, who for months has made it clear she would like a move to a domestic brief.

Mr Blair's aides believe she would be a popular and reassuring Health Secretary. They are stepping up their pressure on Frank Dobson, who currently holds the post, to run for Mayor of London next spring.

Plans to combine the three posts of Scottish, Northern Ireland and Welsh Secretaries into a single "minister for Britain" are likely to be put on hold for at least another year.

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