Peter Mandelson has been appointed to the Cabinet for the third time, replacing John Hutton as Business and Enterprise Secretary, in Gordon Brown’s first major cabinet reshuffle. Mr Hutton has been moved to replace Des Browne, who is leaving the Government, as Defence Secretary. Geoff Hoon will be replacing Ruth Kelly as Secretary of State for Transport, while Nick Brown – a controversial figure in the Labour party – is promoted to Mr Hoon’s role as Chief Whip, a job he held under Tony Blair in 1997.
In a shake up to the machinery of Government, a new department for energy and climate change has been established, merging some of the functions of both BERR and DEFRA. Ed Miliband has been promoted to lead this Department – he is expected to be replaced at the Cabinet Office by Liam Byrne, the Home Office minister, who (at the time of writing) would become the only new face promoted into the Cabinet.
In another heavyweight appointment, former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett is expected to return to the heart of Government, in an unspecified ‘enforcer’ position; some reports suggest that she will replace Caroline Flint as Housing Minister. Mrs Beckett will be seen as lending an experienced head and significant media presence – she has been dubbed ‘Minister for the Today Programme’ – to Gordon Brown’s top team.
Des Browne’s replacement as Scotland Secretary has not yet been announced, although the widely expected ‘ministry of the nations’ has not materialised with Shaun Woodward (Northern Ireland) and Paul Murphy (Wales) believed to be remaining in post.
Today’s announcements – which, it should be stressed, are ongoing and still formally unconfirmed – do not seem to affect the highest rung of Cabinet positions, with all of the holders of the main offices of state remaining unchanged. It has also been, so far at least, a fairly unfussy, clean reshuffle compared with recent precedents.
The biggest shock of the reshuffle is the return of EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, a frequent critic of Gordon Brown, to the Cabinet. Mr Mandelson, who previously held the business brief as Trade and Industry Secretary under Tony Blair, will be joining the House of Lords.
It is believed that Gordon Brown sees Mandelson’s trade and global finance expertise, and Ministerial experience, as being important in tackling the global economic crisis; the bold appointment also represents a notable rapprochement between the two men after many years of mutual hostilities, although the news is already drawing predictable criticism from the Labour left. Mr Mandelson still has a year to run on his term as EU Trade Commissioner, and reports suggest that Gordon Brown will replace him with Baroness Ashton of Upholland, who is currently Leader of the House of Lords. We understand that Mr Mandelson will be making a statement outside Number 10 in a few minutes.
In an attempt to respond to the current economic crisis, the PM has also set up a National Economic Committee to oversee the Government’s work in this area. He is also in the process of appointing a number of high-profile non-Ministerial ‘business ambassadors’, including John Bond of Vodafone.
Another move expected today is the demotion of Gordon Brown’s media enforcer Damian McBride, who has been widely blamed for a number of Government communication mis-steps, including last week’s 3am revelation of Ruth Kelly’s resignation. Mrs Kelly, who leaves the Government today, revealed last night that she will be standing down as an MP at the next election.
There is no information at the time of writing about any knock-on changes at ministerial levels, although we understand that Lord Digby Jones, appointed Minister of Trade by Gordon Brown last year, is also leaving the Government. A significant number of announcements about junior ministerial positions are expected later on today, with Shriti Vadera tipped to join Ed Miliband at the new energy and climate change department.
“A masterstroke” – David Blunkett
“This is an extraordinary step backwards into the worst elements of the Blair era, to reinstate possibly the most divisive figure in Labour’s recent history” – John McDonnell MP, former Labour Party leadership contender
“The department for business must have a heavyweight political big hitter at the cabinet table, and we are encouraged that Peter Mandelson is returning to this role” – John Cridland, CBI Deputy Director-General
“I think bringing back Margaret Beckett, bringing back Peter Mandelson – not talking about them individually – but it does bring more weight and balance to the cabinet” – Graham Stringer MP, Labour backbencher
“[The PM] has achieved the impossible and made the government even more dysfunctional” – Conservative William Hague MP
“Resurrecting ex-ministers from the political graveyard is not going to breathe new life into Gordon Brown’s zombie government” – Lib Dem Danny Alexander MP
“I’m gobsmacked” – BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson