POLITICS: ANALYSIS: A Points Victory for Blair, but His Authority Has Been Undermined

By Grice, Andrew | The Independent (London, England), September 9, 2004 | Go to article overview
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POLITICS: ANALYSIS: A Points Victory for Blair, but His Authority Has Been Undermined


Grice, Andrew, The Independent (London, England)


SO WHO won the trial of strength between the Prime Minister and his Chancellor over last night's cabinet reshuffle? On the face of it, Mr Blair has won on points. He has reinforced the ranks of the Blairite big guns at the heart of his machine after they were depleted by the departures of Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson.

He has also seen off what appeared to be a concerted attempt by the Brownites to scupper his plan to bring back Mr Milburn, a long- standing foe of the Chancellor and - now that he is back in the Cabinet - his most serious rival in the future Labour leadership stakes. If Mr Milburn had rejected Mr Blair's overtures, it would have been a humiliating setback for the Prime Minister, a sign that Mr Brown was calling the shots.

Mr Milburn will not be in charge of Labour's election manifesto. That will be a matter for Mr Blair and the party, Labour sources said last night. But his list of responsibilities will be seen as an invasion of territory held by the Brown camp. He will take over as general election co-ordinator from Douglas Alexander, a Brown protege and Cabinet Office minister. He will chair Labour's general election planning group and be a member of the election strategy group chaired by Mr Blair. For good measure, Mr Milburn will have a government role, supervising the work of the No 10 policy directorate and the Prime Minister's strategy unit and co- ordinating "the development of policy across government". That could certainly challenge Mr Brown's unofficial role as domestic policy overlord.

Although Mr Brown will not have a formal election title, Labour sources said that Mr Milburn would work closely with the "triumvirate" who would run the election effort - Mr Blair, John Prescott and Mr Brown. And yet it would be foolish to see last night's appointment of Mr Milburn as the Government's "policy supremo" as game, set and match to the Prime Minister.

Mr Blair certainly considered making Mr Milburn Labour chairman but was thwarted by an alliance between Mr Brown and John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, who rallied behind Ian McCartney.

The protracted wrangle between Mr Blair and Mr Milburn last night over Mr Milburn's precise remit suggests there may still be key issues to be resolved. Mr Milburn was determined to win what allies called "a proper job, not a paper job." Mr Brown is not about to withdraw from the battle lying ahead over the prospectus Labour will offer the country.

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POLITICS: ANALYSIS: A Points Victory for Blair, but His Authority Has Been Undermined
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