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He’s Brown but he’s not out; well, not yet anyway

Survival. That one word sums up Gordon Brown's safety-first reshuffle yesterday.

It was not a radical relaunch. Instead, it was all about shoring up his position and limiting further ministerial resignations which could have forced him to quit.

A day of frantic activity within his Downing Street bunker enabled Mr Brown to get through the most critical hours of his premiership.

Today, Mr Brown will be joining the D-Day celebrations in Normandy. This was probably his longest day — but the eventual outcome is less predictable than the Allied invasion of France 65 years ago.

The leadership crisis is far from over. While cabinet loyalists were rallying round a beleaguered Prime Minister, Labour was being crushed in the English local elections — raising the prospect of an even greater electoral meltdown when the European election results are announced tomorrow evening.

This reshuffle will be remembered for demonstrating the weakness of a Prime Minister who could not reshape a cabinet in the way he wanted.

Had it not been for six cabinet ministers deciding to quit, it is doubtful whether Mr Brown would have had the authority to carry out any significant changes around the cabinet table.

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Two of the “big beasts”, the Chancellor Alistair Darling and David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, successfully faced down Mr Brown and held on to their jobs.

The Chancellor let it be known he would rather quit than accept a demotion to make way for Mr Brown's highly ambitious but abrasive protege Ed Balls — who is left kicking his heels as Children's Secretary.

Lord Mandelson had been eying up the post of Foreign Secretary — a position his grandfather Herbert Morrison briefly held in the post-war Labour government. But Mr Miliband made clear he wanted to beat the five years Ernie Bevin — coincidentally Morrison's arch enemy — served at the Foreign |Office

Mr Miliband, after his disastrous flirtation with a possible leadership challenge last year, played the loyalty card today.

He pulled back from joining his fellow Blairite James Purnell in quitting the cabinet. Instead he distanced himself from the actions of his close friend and ally.

It left Lord Mandelson having to make do with a beefed up Business Department.

But Mr Brown will probably be relieved Labour's arch manipulator is remaining closer to home rather than travelling the world — as he played a key behind-the-scenes-role in limiting the scale of the Cabinet walk-out.

Mr Brown's most calculated move was promoting the Health Secretary Alan Johnson to the post of Home Secretary, replacing Jacqui Smith, whose resignation earlier this week triggered the unprecedented round of departures from Mr Brown's top table.

Mr Johnson, a former postman, is regarded as the favourite to takeover if Mr Brown steps down or is forced out.

He has stayed loyal, insisting he is not seeking the top job and believes Mr Brown should stay — though if vacancy occurred he would be through the door of No 10 in a flash.

Home Secretary is one of the four great offices of state and it is an undoubted promotion for Mr Johnson.

But it is also something of a poisoned chalice, usually wrecking rather than enhancing its incumbents, who rarely go on to occupy the top role at No 10.

Meanwhile, the Defence Secretary John Hutton — once one of Gordon Brown's fiercest critics — decided to leave the cabinet with the minimum of fuss. He insisted he was standing down for personal reasons — and was not part of any plot to oust Mr Brown.

But it did not all go smoothly. Towards the end of the day, a prominent member of the New Labour sisterhood, Caroline Flint, quit as European Minister, accusing the Prime Minister of treating her as “female window dressing”.

The tabloids had claimed she was one of the WAGS, “Women against Gordon”, but her departure further reduces the already depleted number of women in Mr Brown's top team.


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