l JUST when you're waiting for one reshuffle, two come along! It would not be surprising if Mr Howard's announcement was timed to be hidden behind the media's concentration on what was happening at Downing Street because bringing John Redwood back into frontline politics does not sound like a conciliatory gesture to the centre of the party. Nor does the departure of the liberally-minded John Bercow, an effective debater who has tackled his most recent job on international development with enthusiasm and conviction. Another victim, Julie Kirkbride, whose remit was cultural affairs, has been moved for no better reason than to make space for the Thatcherite John Whittingdale. Ms Kirkbride was offered a post shadowing some Foreign Office areas but declined it because it would involve overseas travel at a time that she is bringing up a three-year-old child; so she has opted for “spending more time with her family”. Perhaps, like Alan Milburn, she will return. The timing of the changes in the Cabinet and the Shadow Cabinet were determined by the need to have settled teams in place for the imminent party conferences and for the run-up to the general election. Looking at the two sides it is difficult to say that they are evenly matched. Although Mr Howard is the equal of the Prime Minister in debate he is much less skilled in making and presenting policy; even after a break of some weeks for reflection it is impossible to think otherwise than that Mr Howard completely threw away the opportunities he had to wrong-foot Mr Blair over Iraq when the Butler report was debated. He has not recovered from that disappointment and it is unlikely that any better opportunity will come his way before the election.

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