Blair consolidates power with control of key cabinet committees

Nigel Morris,Ben Russell
Wednesday 25 May 2005 00:00
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Tony Blair has assumed personal control of a series of key cabinet committees designed to drive through his domestic reforms.

Tony Blair has assumed personal control of a series of key cabinet committees designed to drive through his domestic reforms.

But he also took an important step towards an orderly handover of power to Gordon Brown by appointing him a member of Labour's ruling National Executive Committee (NEC).

Downing Street announced Mr Blair was cutting the number of cabinet committees responsible for co-ordinating government policy, but was taking charge of more of them.

The Prime Minister will now chair 15 of the 44 committees, most of which are central to driving through reform of public services or tackling crime.

Changes to the welfare system, housing, the National Health Service and schools policy will now be led by Mr Blair, who has privately complained of the slow pace of change in the public services.

He will also take over a new AntiSocial Behaviour committee, which will implement his promise to tackle the decline of respect in society.

Given that he has announced he will not fight the next election as Labour leader - and many ministers expect him to quit within 18 months - time is running out for the Government to force through lasting institutional reform.

Mr Brown will chair two of the new committees, Economic Affairs and Public Services and Expenditure; and will also chair one on business deregulation jointly with Mr Blair. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, will chair five committees, and deputise for Mr Blair on another seven. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, will chair four.

Mr Brown took over Alan Milburn's seat on the NEC - one of three in the gift of Mr Blair - in a symbolic act recognising the Chancellor's role at the heart of Labour's election campaign.

The move, which places Mr Brown alongside Mr Blair in Labour's ruling body, gives him important influence in the party machinery and signals his position as leader-in-waiting.

Mr Blair has long believed his personal power of patronage is crucial in preventing him from becoming a "lame duck" premier.

He made the decision to promote the Chancellor in the wake of the election campaign which was dominated by Mr Blair and Mr Brown touring the country as a joint leadership ticket.

Yesterday, sources said the decision had been taken "in the light of what happened in the election".

Mr Blair's appointment heals the rift over his appointment of Mr Milburn as campaign co-ordinator during the election. Tensions between Mr Brown and Mr Blair spilled over last year when he was sidelined from the party's election planning and Mr Milburn was handed his old seat on the NEC. The row surfaced when the Chancellor confirmed Mr Blair had twice vetoed his attempt to rejoin the NEC.

Meanwhile, last night the pro-war MP Ann Clwyd was narrowly elected chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Ms Clwyd, who staunchly backed Mr Blair over the Iraq war and was appointed his human rights envoy to the former dictatorship, beat Tony Lloyd, the former Foreign Office minister, who opposed the invasion, by 167 votes to 156. Ms Clwyd said: "A win is a win."

Downing Street's power base

Committees Tony Blair is chairing:

* Antisocial Behaviour

* Asylum and Migration

* Defence and Overseas Policy

* International Terrorism

* Iraq sub-committee

* Energy and the Environment

* European Union Strategy

* Housing and Planning

* National Health Service Reform

* Panel on Regulatory Accountability

* Public Services Reform

* Regulation, Bureaucracy and Risk

* Schools Policy

* Serious and Organised Crime and Drugs

* Welfare Reform

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