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Blair expands Clarke's empire

TONY Blair's "botched" reshuffle may have left Westminster in a spin over who would inherit Lord Irvine's wallpaper but Charles Clarke had cause to celebrate.

The Department for Education and Skills acquired an extra minister and new responsibilities. Margaret Hodge became the first-ever children's minister, snatching large chunks of services from Health and the Home Office in the process.

"It's almost as if the brief was chosen to fit the minister," declared The Guardian. Not everyone agreed. Her appointment "disgraces this Government" thundered the Evening Standard. It has regularly attacked Ms Hodge since she led Islington council a decade ago and foolishly attacked the paper for revealing how children were exploited by pimps and paedophiles while in her council's care.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that Department of Health officials in shock after Alan Milburn left to spend more time with his family, thought they were responsible for child policy - until they saw Ms Hodge announcing her portfolio.

Yet the fact the job had to be invented underlined just how difficult it was to create "joined-up government" amid departmental turf wars. Ms Hodge's move let in former postmen's leader Alan Johnson, now in charge of higher education. Mr Johnson, a "keen rock music fan" said the Independent, did not go to university, but was a governor of Ruskin College, Oxford.

His elevation may please the new universities and FE colleges who found Ms Hodge unsympathetic. But now he has to steer top-up fees past restless Labour backbenchers.

Perhaps the reshuffle's happiest feature was Estelle Morris's return, as arts minister. On Breakfast with Frost, she said she enjoyed cinema and art galleries, but knew little of opera and ballet. She promised to promote arts education. "Her conversational skills reduce the Martian quotient on the front bench," cheered the Guardian, but the Sunday Times thought her admission to inexperience in the arts "embarrassing". Tuesday's Times showed her smiling in front of a Tate Britain exhibit, a huge contrast with her stress during the A-level crisis.

Conor Ryan was special adviser to David Blunkett from 1997-2001

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