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Scandal-hit Blunkett back in cabinet

London, May 7: Tony Blair, who returned to power with a greatly reduced majority, has appointed a new cabinet with an old look.

For a start, he brought back David Blunkett, who resigned only five months ago as home secretary, as his work and pensions secretary. The problem for Britain is that too many women are choosing not to have children or, for that matter, to marry ' though one in four births now take place outside marriage.

This means that the tax burden of raising enough to finance pension payments for a rapidly ageing population is going to fall on fewer and fewer people left in employment. The obvious solution is to allow more immigrants to come in but both the Tories and for Labour have made 'control of immigration' the touchstone of their politics.

Blunkett has, at least, done his bit to increase the pool of British babies (another of his concerns is to make Britain 'more British'). His former lover, the American Kimberly Fortier, was photographed a few days ago with her second husband, Stephen Quinn. It has to be said they looked happy.

Blunkett is said to be the father of her first child, a boy. The identity of the father of Kimberly’s second son ' and there has been some intriguing suggestions ' has not been disclosed.

Blunkett was forced to resign because he fast tracked a work permit for Kimberly’s former nanny. Even as he resigned, Blair made it clear that if he remained Prime Minister, he would bring Blunkett back ' and he has. If Blunkett does encourage the British people to go out and multiply, he can at least claim: 'Do as I do.'

Blunkett also has three sons from his first marriage.

With his majority cut to 66, a weakened Blair has apparently not been able to make the radical cabinet changes that he wanted. Gordon Brown, whom he wanted to shift to the foreign office, will remain chancellor of the exchequer until he takes over from Blair.

How soon will this be'

If Brown is to have a sporting chance of winning the next election, he has to be given at least three years as Prime Minister. This logic dictates that Blair will have to go within two years, though it is also possible his own MPs will want him to step down sooner.

But Blair likes being Prime Minister and also wants to leave behind a legacy other than Iraq. He does not want to be remembered as the Prime Minister who took Britain into an unpopular war but it is now probably too late in the day for him to recover his damaged status.

Among senior cabinet ministers, Jack Straw, who has been to India a number of times in recent years, remains foreign secretary. The Muslims, who make up a quarter of his constituents, want to eject him from his Blackburn seat but others in the Islamic community came to his aid.

Charles Clarke, who succeeded Blunkett as home secretary, remains at this post. Geoff Hoon, who was defence secretary, is shifted to be leader of the Commons.

During the election campaign, he visited a Hindu temple in Leicester East in support of Keith Vaz and seemed delighted to be delighted. As defence secretary, he has had to take a lot of abuse, especially from the families of British soldiers who have been killed in Iraq (87 so far).

He is replaced at defence by John Reid, an aggressive Glaswegian who objects to posh BBC journalists allegedly treating him with condescension.

One of the senior women in the cabinet is Patricia Hewitt, who moves from trade and industry to health. She has said that nothing can be done to prevent the loss of British jobs to India through outsourcing.

Blair was today at Downing Street, making his junior ministerial announcements, which will be revealed on Monday. It will be a surprise if he includes one of the MPs of Indian origin.

Among the Tories, the battle has already started over the choice of a successor to Michael Howard. He would have been 67 or 68 by the time of the next election.

In Indian terms that is relatively young but in Britain, the late forties or early fifties would be considered just about right. The Tories may ditch their leader but unless they can ditch some of their old policies ' an obsession with race and immigration, for example ' it will not be easy for them to win next time either.

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