London: Britain’s new Prime Minister Gordon Brown will announce a far-reaching Cabinet shakeup as he puts his stamp on the government after 10 years of rule by Tony Blair.
Brown, who switched from finance minister to prime minister on 27 June 2007 after Blair resigned, plans to announce his ministerial team “about lunchtime”, his spokesman said.
Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling is the favourite to take over Brown’s old job and expected departures from other key ministries mean Brown will have scope for a root-and-branch overhaul of cabinet.
He acknowledged after taking office that he must meet a demand for change from an electorate growing tired with 10 years of Labour Party rule.
Before entering 10 Downing Street, Brown said: “This will be a new government with new priorities. And I have been privileged to have been granted the great opportunity to serve my country.”
Brown, who took over from Blair in a long-heralded arrangement, knows he must rebuild Labour support if he is to stave off a resurgent opposition Conservative Party and win the next election, due by 2010.
“As I have travelled around the country ... I’ve heard the need for change,” Brown told reporters massed outside his new home at 10 Downing Street. “Let the work of change begin.”
Top of Brown’s list were changes in the state-run National Health Service and in schools. He will also try to respond to demands for more affordable housing in a country that saw house prices nearly triple during Blair’s decade in power.
Brown will make a number of significant policy announcements in the coming weeks, his spokesman said.
Many Britons remain unhappy with public services, particularly the health service, even though Blair’s government pumped billions of pounds of extra funds into them.
HEALTH SECRETARY TO GO
The target of much of the criticism of the health service, health secretary Patricia Hewitt, announced late on 27 June she would leave the government. That allows Brown to put a new minister in charge of one of the most difficult portfolios.
Home secretary John Reid has also said he is stepping down and Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett is widely expected to leave the Cabinet.
Former foreign secretary Jack Straw is tipped to take charge of the justice ministry while environment secretary David Miliband may get additional responsibility for energy or be promoted to foreign secretary.
International development secretary Hilary Benn is another possible candidate to move to the Foreign Office.
Ed Balls, Brown’s right-hand man at the Treasury, may replace Benn as international development secretary. Balls has authored a report on how to rebuild the economy in Gaza and the West Bank in order to help bring peace to the region.
Blair won three general elections, but he was undermined by the unpopular Iraq war and was forced by a Labour revolt last September to pledge he would step down within a year.
Brown and Blair had a strained relationship.
Blair bowed out in typically showmanlike fashion, making a final appearance at parliamentary question time that won him a standing ovation and left him choked with emotion.
Driven past crowds of onlookers and anti-war protesters to Buckingham Palace, he handed his resignation to Queen Elizabeth. Soon afterwards, the queen asked Brown to form a new government. Blair later announced he would also step down as a member of parliament.