British Prime Minister Tony Blair, after his Labour party took a heavy hit in local elections in England, has carried out his biggest government reshuffle since gaining power. Foreign minister Jack Straw’s fate is the first of many surprises. He becomes leader of the House of Commons, and for the first time the great office of state he leaves is split, with Margaret Beckett becoming foreign minister for the rest of the world, while Geoff Hoon becomes foreign minister for Europe.
The Interior minister Charles Clarke, reeling after a scandal over released foreign criminals who have escaped deportation, lose his job and leaves the government entirely. He is replaced by former defence minister John Reid.
And another scandal-hit big beast of the Labour party, John Prescott, loses his tailor-made department, although he hangs onto his job as deputy prime minister.
Other appointments indicate promotions for close allies of Finance minister Gordon Brown, in what may be preparation for his taking over from Tony Blair. However no date has yet been set for Blair to step down. Blair loyalists continue to insist he will serve out his full term, but a new opinion poll indicates fifty percent of people questioned would like to see him go before the end of this year.