Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Long-Running Downing St Feud Enters New Phase; ANALYSIS

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Long-Running Downing St Feud Enters New Phase; ANALYSIS

Article excerpt

Byline: JOE MURPHY

THE reshuffle suddenly has all the dangerous intrigue of an episode of The Sopranos rather the usual Whitehall musical chairs.

Only a few months ago, it seemed Tony Blair might throw in the towel this autumn. Allies of Gordon Brown, his chief capo and rival, believed their man could be the new boss by November.

Instead, what had been billed as a "limited in scope" reshuffle may emerge as a dramatic sending in of the Blairite heavies to territories run by the Chancellor.

Central to the dramatic change of atmosphere is Tony Blair's own psyche after his return from holiday. He is, said one close Cabinet ally, "fizzing with ideas and plans for the future" and determined to have his way.

In other words, after a year of crisis-management over Iraq and some self-doubt, the Prime Minister is plotting for the long term.

The resignation of Andrew Smith, a much better minister than some of today's commentaries suggest, changes nothing. He would have gone anyway.

More significant is the way his early announcement was greeted by the Brown camp. Mr Smith's trademark grey suit is being waved aloft as a martyr's shroud. He was a victim of "poisonous briefings" from inside the Government, according to the Chancellor's chief lieutenant Nick Brown. Other friends claim he and the Chancellor were both resisting pressure from No 10 for a politically insensitive crackdown on disabled benefits.

"For Nick Brown to come out complaining so early means the Brown camp is worried," said one Cabinet ally of the Prime Minister, with undisguised satisfaction.

Much more interesting is the question of who replaces Mr Smith. Hitherto, welfare policy has belonged to the Chancellor and the Cabinet ministers responsible have been appointed from his close allies. There is logic to this because the greatest welfare reform, tax credits, are equally important to the Treasury and are Mr Brown's personal creation. …

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