But does that go for his cabinet? His colleagues are fighting that clammy feeling caused by impending electoral loss. Their instinct is to reach to the ‘heartlands’. John Prescott has announced his conversion to elected regional assemblies, which play well in Hull, Newcastle and other Labour strongholds. Alan Milburn is almost emptying bedpans himself in his rush to secure health improvements, and his extra billions for the National Health Service are already flowing.
For David Blunkett the fact the recent editions of the Times Education Supplement have been the fattest ever, replete with ads for new teachers, is a welcome sign. Peter Mandelson, MP for Hartlepool, did not make his controversial pro-euro speech by accident: it was a bid to show manufacturers and employees that he cares.
The consensus is that, thanks to John Towers and the clever way Ford made its Dagenham announcements, Stephen Byers survived the rupture of the British car industry with merely a few dents in his fenders. But he, too, is a North East MP who fancies himself for advancement in the next re-shuffle. He needs be able to give the impression of active policy for industry without radically revising the Blairite hands-off approach.
His political problem is that he cannot do a Mandelson and speak out on joining the euro as a way to ease the burden of sterling on industry.
This is a cabinet which is divided between those whose allegiance is to Blair, and those who would follow Gordon Brown, with a few stragglers in the middle.
Stephen Byers got his job at DTI on the understanding he observed the balance and talking openly about the euro, not something Gordon Brown is prepared to tolerate. Mandelson, because of his position in Ulster and his closeness to Blair, is licensed to deviate. Byers is not.
– David Walker writes for The Guardian.