`Turf wars' in Labour reshuffle

27th October 1995 at 00:00
Frances Rafferty and Geraldine Hackett on Tony Blair's new education and employment team.

The appointment of the Labour party's new education and employment team has led to an embarrassing row over who is in charge of employment policy.

8.5 = Labour has been forced by the Government, which scrapped the Department of Employment and created the Department for Education and Employment, to reorganise its own personnel as part of Mr Blair's reshuffle of shadow port-folios.

The result is the promotion of David Blunkett to shadow secretary for education and employment, leading on education and training issues with his team of Peter Kilfoyle, Bryan Davies, Stephen Byers and Estelle Morris. Michael Meacher, also voted on to the Shadow Cabinet, will be responsible for employment issues with his deputy Ian McCartney.

Mr Blunkett will be taking the leading role, but it is accepted that Mr Meacher has special status. Welcoming the appointment, Mr Blunkett said: "Michael Meacher is an old friend and we will be working closely together in our new co-ordinated approach to employment and education policy."

But Mr Meacher made it clear that he saw his role as that of shadow employment secretary and an equal position to Mr Blunkett's.

The Whitehall turf wars over education and employment may be over, but if this week's events are anything to go by the Labour merger will create an all-out battle between Mr Blunkett and Mr Meacher, the party's former transport spokesman.

Party sources said the new division of briefs would leave the door open for a Labour government to reconstitute a department for employment and create an education and training department. Mr Meacher clearly sees his role as rebuilding the employment department.

He is furious at what has been portrayed in the press as his demotion. Feeling badly treated by the Labour party leadership, he has already made his way to the leader's office in anger.

It is thought that tensions had developed between Mr Meacher and Mr Blair over opposition to the Government's plans to privatise British Rail. Mr Meacher is said to have been impatient that he was unable to promise a more comprehensive renationalisation programme and apparently pressure from Mr Blair's office led to a last-minute revision of his speech to the Labour conference, last month.

The potential for conflict apart, Mr Blunkett emerges from the reshuffle with a much strengthened team. He is being joined by two of the most hard-working MPs from the 1992 intake. The appointment of Stephen Byers, a former chairman of the Council of Local Education Authorities, will reassure the LEAs who feel that Tony Blair does not have their interests at heart. The work on training will be done principally by Mr Byers. The party is considering a pledge to provide a minimum training wage.

Estelle Morris was attached to the team during her year in the whips' office. As a former teacher in an inner-city comprehensive, she can speaks from experience about the system's problems.

The promotion of Mr Blunkett means he gets to sit on the party's key economic committees. There may well be internal skirmishes between the team, particularly in areas such as training, but Mr Blunkett is unlikely to allow any public display of disunity.

Margaret Hodge continues in charge of the under-5s task group and Greg Pope becomes education whip.

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