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The corridors of power ...

In between campaign stops, Tony Blair has been doodling names and departments on the back of an envelope. On 8 June, he will have 21 Cabinet slots to play with. How will he fit faces and jobs?

One thing is for sure. The templates and organisation charts which cabinet secretary Sir Richard Wilson has been working up will take second place to personality. Cabinet making is horses for courses.

If Jack Straw goes to Environment, Transport and the Regions, the scope of that department cannot be reduced without it being interpreted as a demotion; that means transport cannot become a separate entity and Straw would take it badly if, say, responsibility for the English regions switched to wherever John Prescott fetches up.

Prescott’s likely move is to a Cabinet Office supremo role. He is intellectually unsuited for it but something must be found. If David Blunkett goes to the Home Office, Stephen Byers would make a sound replacement for him.

But there is juggling to be done. Blair is tempted by a new ‘Department of the Working Age’, combining social security and employment – preferably with a woman head. But that means Byers coming to terms with a diminution in DfEE’s powers.

So what does Blair do with social security secretary, Alistair Darling?

Darling is Brown’s man so if he went to Trade and Industry it might look as if the Treasury’s remit was being further extended. Yet Darling, because he is a Brown man could not be let go without it looking like a snub to the chancellor.

So the game of musical chairs will be played out. A technocrat might ask why Blair does not create a Department of Productivity. Unless the capacity of the economy grows, Labour’s bid to spend more on public services without increasing tax rates would be thwarted. At present, productivity responsibilities are shared between DTI, the Treasury, the DfEE. But who would dare suggest such a radical reorganisation to Brown? Not Blair, it seems.

David Walker writes for The Guardian.

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