by RAY FLEMING l WHAT will Tony Blair now do with David Blunkett? For that matter, what plans has he for John Prescott? In truth the latter has probably served his purpose, which was to be visible as the voice of Old Labour at the heart of New Labour. From time to time he has been useful also in reassuring restive trade unions that Downing Street's heart remained in the right place but as a departmental minister he has been something of an embarrassment, especially in his failure to win the referenda in the North of England on the creation of new elected regional authorities. None the less, in an interview in the Guardian just before the election, Mr Prescott made plain his determination to stay in the Cabinet with departmental responsibility.
Gordon Brown will certainly not be moved and Jack Straw at the Foreign Office, Charles Clarke as Home Secretary and John Reid at Health seem secure; the relative newcomers to the Cabinet, Ruth Kelly at Education and Alan Johnson at Work and Pensions have not been at their jobs long enough to think of moving them. So something has to give if David Blunkett is to return at the level of seniority that his previous experience requires. Might it be Margaret Beckett, who served under James Callaghan and was once acting leader of the party, whose time is up? Her department of the environment is not the most exciting billet in Whitehall and although its responsibilities, including agriculture, are important it does not seem the right kind of place for Mr Blunkett's keen political attributes.
Mr Blair has been heard to talk of the need for a Cabinet “enforcer” who would ensure on his behalf that departmental ministers delivered on their allotted tasks; Mr Blunkett has the ability to do this job but whether other ministers would want to see him in it after his disobliging references to the limited abilities of some of his colleagues that appeared in his biography late last year.