Milburn attacked for taking coalition role

Nigel Morris
Monday 16 August 2010 00:00 BST

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Louise Thomas

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Alan Milburn faced an angry backlash from former colleagues last night after he became the most prominent Labour figure to accept a job from the Tory-Liberal Democrat Government.

The former health secretary is to become the Government's "social mobility tsar" with the task of advising it on boosting prospects of children from the poorest backgrounds.

He follows the former Labour ministers Lord Hutton and Frank Field in taking advisory roles with the coalition Government. Details of Mr Milburn's post, which is unpaid, are due to be spelt out this week by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr Milburn is understood to have obtained a guarantee that he will have free rein to speak his mind. His decision to take the position was denounced by Labour figures. Andy Burnham, shadow Health Secretary, described it as a "kick in the teeth" for the party's supporters. "It would be to give unjustified legitimacy to a government which is already choking off the life chances of young people and with its cuts is threatening to throw social mobility in reverse," he said.

John Prescott accused the three who have accepted jobs, who were all critics of Gordon Brown's leadership, of betraying the party. The former deputy prime minister wrote on his Twitter page: "So after Field & Hutton, Milburn becomes the 3rd collaborator. They collaborated to get Brown OUT. Now collaborating to keep Cameron IN."

Mr Milburn was recruited by Mr Brown to seek ways of opening up top jobs to youngsters from less well-off backgrounds. His proposals were not taken up.

Meanwhile the former home secretary David Blunkett is discussing a position with the Centre for Social Justice, a think-tank set up by the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, now Work and Pensions Secretary. Mr Blunkett's remit is likely to include benefits abuse and combating poverty.

Natural Tory bedfellows?

Alan Milburn

Five years ago the Blairite minister was given the task as Labour's election campaign manager of countering the threat from the Tories and Liberal Democrats. His spell in office was chequered with clashes with Gordon Brown, including over his role in the 2005 election. For a while his leadership ambitions burned bright, but detractors accused him of being "Blairlite".

David Blunkett

Mr Blunkett is a tribal Labour politician to his fingertips, inspired by Harold Wilson's speech to join the party at the age of 16. But he is also a social conservative. During his brief spell as Work and Pensions Secretary in 2005, he denounced the benefits system as "crackers" and urged the workshy to stop watching daytime TV and get a job.

John Hutton

The former Defence Secretary, who is leading a Government review of pensions, is firmly on the Labour Right. A strong supporter of Tony Blair, he privately warned in 2006 that Gordon Brown would be a "fucking disaster" as prime minister. Fellow Blairites were always waiting for him to strike publicly against Mr Brown, but he remained loyal.

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