As Labour whips last night ran the most tightly-controlled shadow Cabinet elections, leading leftwinger Clare Short was expected to be moved out of her transport post in a limited final reshuffle of Tony Blair's pre- election team.
Ms Short is considered to have made a bumpy start as transport spokeswoman since taking over the position eight months ago. She has also offended Mr Blair with a series of comments on the legalisation of cannabis and the need for the better-off to pay higher taxes.
In the last shadow Cabinet poll before the general election, Labour MPs were under intense pressure from whips to cast all their 19 votes for the "leadership slate" of the existing team. That team includes health spokeswoman Harriet Harman, under pressure for her decision to send her son to a selective grammar school, and Jack Cunningham, the national heritage spokesman, in place of Joan Lestor, the overseas development spokeswoman who is retiring from parliament at the next election.
A senior source in the Labour whips office denied there was an "operation" to defend Ms Harman, urging loyal MPs to distribute their four compulsory votes for women candidates in her favour. Leftwingers had accused whips of manipulating the 46 proxies, but the source said that 36 of them were supportive of the leadership, and the advice was to "vote for the entire slate".
Following recent reforms, each MP is entitled to cast only one proxy ballot on behalf of an absent colleague, so preventingwhips accumulating blank proxies. Supporters of left-wing challenger, Ann Clwyd, are curious about the decision by Blair critic George Galloway (Glasgow Hillhead) to hand his proxy vote to deputy chief whip Nick Brown. One Westminster source last night saidit did not seem like a free and fair election.
Mr Blair's front-bench team is expected to see limited changes in the run-up to the election, which will probably be held in May. Under rule E of the standing orders of the Parliamentary Labour Party, he is required to appoint all 19 of his elected shadow team, if he gains power.
Yesterday's shadow Cabinet elections, with only seven candidates from outside the existing team, has added to com- plaints in the Party about Mr Blair's "autocratic" style. Several motions to Labour's annual conference in Blackpool, to be published tomorrow, have criticised the lack of consultation within on policy changes. But the leadership has been encouraged by Unison's motion backing shadow chancellor Gordon Brown's review of child benefit for 16-18-year-olds.
The Unison motion also accepts the breaking of the link between the basic state pension and average earnings, calling for it to be up-rated "at least in line with the Retail Prices Index, with the encouragement of wider second-tier pension coverage" so that incomes will be above the state pension.
Blair dream team, p15
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