Mini-reshuffle fails to hide division in Government ranks

By Andrew Grice
Tuesday 22 October 2013 02:39

Tony Blair shrugged off Clare Short's attack on his "presidential" style of government yesterday as he sought to stabilise his Government.

In a mini-reshuffle, the Prime Minister strengthened the Department for International Department, formerly led by Ms Short, by appointing an extra minister. Hilary Benn, a Home Office minister, was promoted to Minister of State at the department, where he served as a junior minister.

The changes follow criticism over Mr Blair's appointment of a peer, Baroness Amos, to Ms Short's old department. Mr Benn will answer questions on international development in the Commons. The son of the left-wing former cabinet minister Tony Benn, he is a moderniser who describes himself as "a Benn, but not a Bennite".

Paul Goggins, MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East, succeeds Mr Benn as the minister for Prisons and Probation. He has been Parliamentary Private Secretary to David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, for the past three years.

Yesterday's shake-up still leaves three ministerial posts unfilled after the previous resignations over Iraq – at the Home Office, the Department of Work and Pensions and the Department of Health. Mr Blair is expected to reshuffle more widely in the next few weeks. There is also a vacancy at the Foreign Office after the promotion of Lady Amos to head International Development.

The Prime Minister's spokesman dismissed Ms Short's criticism that Mr Blair was running his government by "diktat" from Downing Street.

The spokesman said Mr Blair worked closely with ministerial colleagues and added: "On the future of Iraq, the fact of the matter is reconstruction and humanitarian issues have been a recurring point of discussion, not only at ministerial meetings but also last Thursday at the Cabinet itself. Unfortunately, Clare Short was not there.

"Yes, the Prime Minister is there to give a lead but he does so working with his colleagues."

Cabinet loyalists hit back at Ms Short. John Reid, the Leader of the Commons, said: "I regret that Clare decided that she could no longer stay in the Government. Even more so I regret the manner in which she went and the degree of tension and animosity."

Labour backbenchers reacted coolly to Ms Short's call for Mr Blair to step down before the next general election, apparently in favour of her close ally Gordon Brown.

Peter Kilfoyle, who resigned as a Defence minister in protest at the Government's direction, said he did not believe Ms Short would become a standard bearer for Mr Blair's critics. He said she had "lost a great deal of credibility" by not resigning before the Iraq war.

Louise Ellman, MP for Liverpool Riverside, said Ms Short raised some valid concerns but had "gone too far" in attacking the Prime Minister personally.

Michael Connarty, MP for Falkirk West, said her speech had provided a "very thorough analysis of what's been the rot at the heart of the Labour Government". But he said the issue was not about changing leaders but of listening to criticisms from former ministers. "If Mr Blair really wants to stay and lead the party, he has to renew himself," he added.

As his spokesman said Mr Blair was "getting on with the job," the Prime Minister held talks with private-sector healthcare executives bidding to build diagnostic centres for minor NHS operations such as cataracts and hip replacements. Mr Blair said he was determined to achieve a "greater diversity of supply and greater consumer choice. We are anxious to ensure that this is the start of opening up the whole of the NHS supply system so that we end up with a situation where the state is the enabler, it is the regulator, but it is not always the provider."

Mr Blair added: "The basic principles of the NHS will remain but we will operate them and implement them in a different way for today's world."

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