Monday, September 06, 2004

Alan Milburn to return to Cabinet?

Today's Northern Echo has a front page story about Alan's possible return to the Cabinet (in the Darlington Edition, at least). This is available online, but the Northern Echo's website doesn't have permanent links to stories, so I'm republishing it below:

Blair ally Milburn on way back to Cabinet

FORMER Health Secretary Alan Milburn was last night poised to return to the Cabinet - only 14 months after quitting to spend more time with his family.

The Northern Echo understands the Darlington MP has accepted the Labour Party chairmanship and will play a leading role in the party's forthcoming General Election campaign.

The appointment is expected to be announced as part of a Government reshuffle this week.

Mr Milburn, a close ally of Prime Minister Tony Blair, left his ministerial post in June last year to spend more time with his partner, Ruth Briel, and their two sons.

His spokeswoman would not confirm the appointment last night, saying that Mr Milburn did not comment on speculation. Downing Street also refused to answer questions about the expected reshuffle.

But Whitehall sources say Mr Milburn's return to the Cabinet has been on the cards since Labour's disastrous failure in June's European and local elections, which was partly blamed on current party chairman Ian McCartney.

Last night, the man who replaced Mr Milburn as Health Secretary, John Reid, added to the Westminster speculation by saying the Government had missed the arch-Blairite's skills.

"When a General Election comes up we want the best, the brightest of all of the talents to try to make sure we get another term," he said.

"I am a friend of Ian McCartney. I am a friend of Alan Milburn as well - in fact I am very close to Alan on political grounds - and my view is he was missed."

At the time he left the Cabinet, Mr Milburn appeared to rule out a speedy return to Government office, saying: "I think it is very, very difficult having left in these circumstances to return, and I really can't see it."

The Cabinet reshuffle should have happened in July but lengthy negotiations between Mr Blair and Peter Mandelson over his return to high-profile politics meant it had to be put on hold.

The Hartlepool MP eventually accepted a position as an EU commissioner.

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