Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Blair in Reshuffle Battle with Brown; Chancellor Could Face No10 Challenge for Control of Key Policies

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Blair in Reshuffle Battle with Brown; Chancellor Could Face No10 Challenge for Control of Key Policies

Article excerpt

Byline: JOE MURPHY

TONY BLAIR was today preparing a reshuffle which could see him seize control over welfare reform from Gordon Brown.

The Prime Minister was being urged by Cabinet allies to appoint rising loyalist Alan Johnson as the new Work and Pensions Secretary to replace Andrew Smith who resigned last night.

Such a move would be seen as a major shot across the bows of the Chancellor, who has enjoyed near total dominance from the Treasury over the Government's social and welfare policies.

Coming on top of the expected Cabinet return of Alan Milburn, the former Health Secretary strongly tipped as a Labour leadership rival to Mr Brown, ministers were predicting the reshuffle would trigger serious tensions between No 10 and the Treasury. According to No 10 insiders, Mr Blair was hoping to rush out the reshuffle today despite also holding his monthly press conference, though a delay until later this week was not ruled out. Mr Blair began mapping out his changes three months ago and is believed to have a clear idea of the new personnel in the Government ranks. But he was also discussing the changes with his deputy, John Prescott, and Mr Brown.

Ministers close to Mr Blair were urging him to wait a few days to let the dust settle over Mr Smith's surprise announcement of his resignation.

Dubbed the "quiet man" of the Cabinet, he is loyal to Mr Brown and there was speculation he may criticise the Government from the backbenches.

Mr Johnson is the combative Universities Minister who pushed through plans for top-up fees against resistance from the Chancellor's camp.

Allies of Mr Blair were making plain they believed welfare reform had run into the sand during Mr Smith's tenure and a much tougher crackdown on the workshy was needed.

One senior minister said: "We have certainly got to do more on incapacity benefit, although it is very difficult territory. I think the evidence is clear that some people see it as a way of avoiding work rather than helping those with a serious inability to work."

Mr Blair listed incapacity benefit and housing benefit in his speech to Labour activists last week as priority areas for a blizzard of new reforms. …

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