View from the house

Tony will still be in charge of course after the election. But who is going to be joining him around the Cabinet table or applauding him when the Parliamentary Labour Party first meets? Campaigning has already begun for the May council and London mayor elections and will move into higher gear later in the summer.

The promotion stakes are already crowded. If Tony Blair feels the heartlands factor is a lot less than it is cracked up to be, what price John Prescott’s survival at the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, a prime candidate for chopping up. Prescott may prove a useful counterweight to Gordon Brown, but in a more symbolic job.

Other potential victims of a reshuffle include Clare Short and the two women, Ann Taylor as chief whip and Margaret Beckett as leader of the Commons who have proved so oddly resistant to reform. But they would have to be replaced by other women.

It is when you peer into the nether ranks of the Labour government that it becomes difficult to predict who might move up. I recently compiled a list of ministers of state (the grade just below Cabinet rank) and was surprised at just how obscure many of them remain. Tony may have been told by Sir Richard Wilson, the cabinet secretary, that they are doing reasonable jobs as ministers but many fail the Today programme test – they are never on it, let alone put up a fight when grilled by John Humphreys.

Try Stephen Timms, John Hutton, John Denham, Joyce Quin, John Battle, Adam Ingram, Richard Caborne, even the fragrantly named Dawn Primarolo. Yet it is from their ranks that Blair will have to look to replenish his inner circle. Hot tips include Patricia Hewitt, Peter Hain and (not for the first time) Tessa Jowell. Labour has some talent in the House of Lords but after the fiasco over its reform Blair would find it well-nigh impossible to promote any of its members to the cabinet.

David Walker writes for the Guardian

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