Beginning of the end for Brown?

THE Prime Minister has thrown off the shackles of his 10-year marriage to brooding rival Gordon Brown and now presides over a Blairite dominated New Labour Cabinet.

THE Prime Minister has thrown off the shackles of his 10-year marriage to brooding rival Gordon Brown and now presides over a Blairite dominated New Labour Cabinet.

Back into the political limelight comes Alan Milburn, the arch enemy of the Chancellor, who has been appointed Chancellor of the Ducky of Lancaster and will be policy supremo for the election campaign – a role undertaken by Mr Brown at the last two elections.

But he remained one of the Prime Minister's most trusted allies and has often been used, along with former Transport Secretary Stephen Byers, to test the water for controversial policies.

He reportedly refused to return to the Cabinet unless he was given real power in deciding Labour's election strategy.

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All now hinges on how Mr Brown views Milburn's return. The Chancellor still frets over his decision 10 years ago to stand aside after John Smith's death to allow Tony Blair to take over the Labour leadership.

He expects to take the crown when the PM quits – but there's no sign of that happening yet and there is even speculation that after getting a third mandate from the voters at the next election, Mr Blair may decide to rid himself of his Chancellor altogether.

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Mr Milburn insists the Chancellor will have a key role in the battle for a third term and dismiss suggestions that his appointment reflected an ideological rift at the top of Government. But he would say that.

But Mr Milburn made it absolutely clear that, that following the reshuffle, he would be in charge of co-ordinating the campaign of developing policies for the manifesto.

Mr Milburn added: "I will be saying to Gordon, as I have been to all my other colleagues, what we have got to do is pull together. This is a team effort, as the Prime Minister rightly said."

Another Blairite promoted to the Cabinet is former postman Alan Johnson, who moves from Minister of State in the Education ministry to take over from Brownite Andrew Smith, who resigned on Monday as Work and Pensions Secretary.

ALTHOUGH the Cabinet reshuffle overshadowed changes to Michael Howard's Tory team, the opposition moves are no less significant.

The decision to give a top role to John Redwood in the Shadow Cabinet marks a major shift to the right for the Tories and a strengthening of anti-European sentiment at the top of the Conservative Party.

Mr Redwood was the surprise winner in Michael Howard's frontbench reshuffle, which saw the leading Eurosceptic given the new role of Shadow Secretary for Deregulation.

Mr Howard also promoted defence spokesman Nicholas Soames to the shadow cabinet as a reward for being the strongest performer in the Commons, and he has put rising star David Cameron –tipped as a future leader – into the top team, retaining his responsibility for policy co-ordination.

Mr Redwood's promotion shows that the Conservatives are taking seriously the impact that the advance of the pull-out-of-Europe UK Independence Party is having on supporters to detest further European integration.

He said he was "delighted we are against the euro in principle and I am delighted we are against the European Constitution because they happen to be about our most popular policies."

An outspoken opponent of European integration, Mr Redwood was a thorn in the side of John Major when serving in his Cabinet as Welsh Secretary and stood unsuccessfully against the former Prime Minister for leadership of the party in 1995.

He made a further bid for the leadership following the Conservatives' landslide defeat in the 1997 general election, and later served in William Hague's shadow cabinet.

Out of the Shadow Cabinet go John Bercow and Damien Green – leading voices of moderation on the left of the party – who lost their jobs as, respectively, spokesmen for international development and transport. Mr Bercow's former brief went to Alan Duncan, while Mr Green's responsibilities will be taken over by Shadow Environment Secretary Tim Yeo.

Maldon & Chelmsford East MP John Whittingdale takes over the culture, media and sport brief from Julie Kirkbride, while West Suffolk MP Richard Spring moves from his post as Shadow Minister for Europe to the Treasury team.

Former Suffolk farmer and county councillor Jim Paice, who is MP for Cambridgeshire South-East, replaces Mr Whittingdale as Shadow Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food.

THETories announced this week plans to scrap tuition fees and to raise the student loan rate. Education spokesman Tim Collins said universities would lose about £1.8bn in fee income but would be compensated by around the same amount because the "student loan book" would be passed on to them.

The plans would mean students would pay an interest rate of 6.5%, fluctuating with the Bank of England rate, but capped at a maximum of 8% for the first five years.

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