9th May 1997 at 01:00
It's been Seven Days That Shook The World, especially within government circles. The dust is finally settling at the Department for Education and Employment, where mandarins are coping with a triple whammy of new Ministers, new open management style, and new bod in charge of publicity.

Meanwhile, the new boys and girls are having to get used to finally running the show, instead of carping about it, a point made forcibly by David Blunkett to the assembled hacks within hours of taking power.

No matter how hard he prepared for government, nor how huge the landslide, old habits died hard for Secretary of State Mr Blunkett. He started by introducing his new Permanent Secretary, Michael Bichard, to the press as Michael Barber, the media-friendly professor of school improvement who was subsequently appointed special adviser. "Sorry, I've been doing that for two years," he apologised.

Mr Blunkett also managed to surprise the mandarins by arriving with his new director of information in tow."We knew he would be coming, but we weren't expecting him to fall out of the ministerial car," confided a stunned Sanctuary Buildings insider.

The new boy is Jonathan Haslam, former handler of prime ministerial publicity - who had to make way for Alastair Campbell, New Labour's media supremo. Many saw his agreement to take on the John Major job last year as a poisoned chalice: since he came from fielding the mad cow crisis at Agriculture, perhaps it was not such an odd career move.

"We've got lots of ideas, but we want to make sure we only announce one thing at a time. The last lot just had no idea of co-ordination," snorts Mr Blunkett.

But back to the new team. Its surprise addition, Kim Howells, was still pinching himself at becoming a Minister the day after his appointment. "I was at home mending my kid's rollerblades when I got the phone call. It was the Prime Minister asking me if I knew about his passion and whether I would like to join the education team." Modestly, Dr Howells claims to know little about the subject. Did he fix the rollerblades? "No."

Dr Howells could be one to watch: a former communist and research officer for the National Union of Miners in Wales, he later became a fully paid-up Kinnockite. "Traditional Labourism, the Labour of cliches, is finished; you can't talk to people in Leftspeak; they don't understand," he said some years before the birth of Blair's New Labour.

More modesty from Steve Byers, who was a tad surprised to be offered a job overseeing schools standards: not an area with which he has previously been involved. But that was not his biggest surprise on becoming a Minister. "They ask you who you want to lunch with, and who you don't," says Mr B with wonder. "I said journalists were fine." So who won't he be lunching with? "Ah, that's a much more interesting question," he said diplomatically. Most interesting, considering that it was a journalistic lunch with Mr B which landed Labour in all that publicity hot water last autumn about the party distancing itself from the unions. Initially explained away as an uncharacteristic gaffe by the usually sure-footed Mr Byers, suspicions later grew that there was nothing accidental about the revelation.

Meanwhile, Alan Howarth, under-secretary on the Employment ticket, is feeling a distinct sense of deja-vu. Some wit in charge of allocating Sanctuary Buildings offices has provided Mr Howarth with precisely the same accommodation he enjoyed during his sojourn as a (Tory) minister in charge of higher education in the early 1990s. Still, at least he hasn't been given the job which the late lamented Bryan Davies held as a shadow: once Mr D's constituency seat disappeared courtesy of the Boundary Commission, and Mr H crossed the House to Labour, the pair found themselves fighting it out for the same seats in the final months before the election. Mr Davies is still out in the political wilderness somewhere.

Carborundum's prize for canny operator of the year must go to the aforementioned Professor Barber, who has known for months that he would become a Department for Education insider if Labour won the election but breathed a word to no-one except his boss, Professor Peter Mortimore at the Institute of Education, who agreed his secondment. He even managed to keep quiet despite a lively night celebrating at Labour's Festival Hall party. "I saw him leave at about 4am and asked if he had a new job - and he said no," revealed an impressed hack.

Just how the erstwhile Government will react to finding itself in Opposition remains to be seen. Of the education team, poor Robin Squire disappeared under the landslide in Essex, while Sir Malcolm Thornton - longstanding supremo of the Select Committee - saw his redrawn Crosby seat disintegrate. After 18 years in the Commons, the former Mersey river pilot has no plans to either stand for re-election or take up his old job ("I don't fancy climbing up ladders on to big ships at 3am") and is looking to make more of a mark in education.

Gillian Shephard, meanwhile, appears to have decided that her best shot at the future lies in supporting Peter Lilley for the leadership campaign, and is currently soldiering on as shadow education secretary. This is not widely known, however. Said her longstanding Commons secretary: "Are you sure?"

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