- Imagine that, getting rid of cabinet members because
they're unpopular with the public.
Tony Blair Fires Foreign Secretary
May 05 7:07 AM US/Eastern
By BETH GARDINER
Associated Press Writer
Prime Minister Tony Blair fired his law and order
chief Friday and chose a new foreign secretary in a
wide-ranging Cabinet shuffle a day after his party
took a pounding in local elections.
The Labour Party pulled 26 percent of the vote to the
Conservatives 40 percent, a result that renewed calls
from some quarters for the prime minister to step
Home Secretary Charles Clarke, embroiled in a
politically damaging furor over the failure to deport
foreign criminals, confirmed that Blair had removed
him from office. Defense Secretary John Reid was moved
to the Home Office, and Des Browne was promoted from
chief secretary at the Treasury to secretary of
Blair removed Jack Straw as foreign secretary,
replacing him with Margaret Beckett, who had headed
the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
She becomes the first woman to hold the job.
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who admitted an
affair with a secretary, will keep his title but was
stripped of the responsibilities of his department,
which include housing and planning.
"I felt that it was very difficult, given the level of
genuine public concern, for Charles to continue" as
home secretary, said Blair, who days earlier had
defended Clarke as the right man to deal with the
Clarke said he had turned down offers of other
government posts. "I do not think it would be
appropriate to remain in this government in these
circumstances," Clarke said in a statement.
The shake-up appeared aimed at demonstrating Blair
still holds a firm grip on his beleaguered government
after weeks of negative headlines and scandal.
"It'll take far more than a reshuffle," Conservative
Party leader David Cameron said. "What we need in this
country is a replacement of the government."
"I think what we have seen over the last few hours is
that while the Labour Party is collapsing, the
Conservative Party is building," Cameron said as he
toured London to celebrate his party's gains in the
Glenda Jackson, a former Labour government minister
who has been a persistent critic of Blair, joined the
calls for him to go. "The problem for the party and
its government is its leader," she said.
Thursday's vote was widely seen as a referendum on
Blair's government, and Cameron emerged as the main
"I'm a happy man this morning," said Cameron, who took
over the party in December.
Labour took 1,065 seats in incomplete counting, down
251 seats compared with the results of the last
election. The Conservatives won 1,567 seats, a gain of
249. Labour lost control of 16 local councils _
including some boroughs in London _ and the Tories
The far-right British National Party won 13 seats.
Labour also did badly in the 2004 local vote but that
didn't stop Blair from leading the party to its third
straight national election victory a year later _
albeit with a reduced majority in the House of
Treasury chief Gordon Brown, the main expected to
succeed Blair, said voters were concerned about issues
of crime, terrorism and their financial and job
security. "We've got to show in the next few days, not
just in the next few weeks, that we are sorting these
problems out," he told British Broadcasting Corp.
Voters in Thursday's elections chose representatives
to fill 4,360 seats in 176 local authorities across
England, a little less than half of all English
councils. London was the biggest battleground, with
elections in all 32 boroughs.
Labour's poor showing was likely to embolden those
calling for Blair to step down soon or at least offer
a timeline as to when he may leave office.
Most Labour members of Parliament "are saying now that
we've got to get the party under new management. It
ought to happen fairly soon," said Frank Dobson, who
was health secretary in Blair's first Cabinet.
The government's acknowledgment last week that
officials had failed to screen 1,023 foreign criminals
for deportation before freeing them from prison over
the past seven years was particularly damaging.
Associated Press writers Beth Gardiner and Daniel
Woolls contributed to this story.