GORDON Brown emerged yesterday from the first round of his recovery campaign in a stronger position than had at first looked possible. The local election results were very poor - as had been expected - but they will not be important in eleven month's time. By contrast the Cabinet reshuffle went quite well. The only true protest resignation was that of James Purnell, not a major figure; Heather Blears' departure was an absurd ego-trip, Jacqui Smith's had been long foretold and Geoff Hoon's was long, long overdue. Peter Hain's return will be a plus. Alan Johnson has strengthened his leadership credentials for the future but he will have to be careful to see that the Home Office is not a poisoned chalice as it has been for so many in the past. The day was not improved by a ludicrous attack on Harriet Harman by John Prescott who blamed her for the poor results in the local elections because of the lack of an effective campaign. No one - not even Prescott himself - could have changed the outcome of these elections in the prevailing circumstances. Harman, Labour's elected deputy leader, deserves better; she delivered a sturdy, loyal and effective defence of the prime minister on BBC Radio's Today programme last week and she is a greatly improved parliamentary performer, as she has showed in encounters with the formidable William Hague.
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