Britain’s Brown shakes up government

New British Prime Minister Gordon Brown named a rising star and reported critic of the Iraq war, David Miliband, as Foreign Minister on Thursday in a wide-ranging government shake-up.

Miliband (41) was once mooted as a leadership rival to Brown, who promoted trusted ally Alistair Darling (53) to take on his old job of Finance Minister.

Brown, who switched from finance minister to prime minister on Wednesday after Tony Blair resigned, has said he must meet a demand for change from an electorate tired with 10 years of Labour Party rule, and draw a line under the unpopular Iraq war.

There was a stark reminder for Brown of the chaos in Iraq on Wednesday. Three British troops were killed by a roadside bomb in Basra on Wednesday, taking the number of British deaths in Iraq since the United States-led invasion in 2003 to 156.

Analysts said the appointment of Darling signalled no major change in economic policy after Brown’s successful decade-long tenure as finance minister, but Miliband’s promotion marked a shift of tone in foreign affairs.

The jobs given to other Brown allies such as his leadership campaign manager, Jack Straw; right-hand man at the Treasury, Ed Balls; and fellow Scot Douglas Alexander underlined the priorities of Brown’s policy agenda.

As Justice Minister, Straw (60) will be charged with getting a parliamentary consensus for constitutional reform and sorting out a prisons overcrowding crisis. Balls (40) was named Children, Schools and Families Minister, signalling Brown’s focus on convincing the electorate he will improve education and stand up for working families.

Many Britons remain unhappy with Britain’s public services, even though Blair’s government pumped billions of pounds of extra funds into them. Brown gave the health portfolio to Alan Johnson, who was pipped in a vote for Labour Party deputy.

Alexander (39), who will run the prime minister’s general election campaign, became Minister for International Development. Brown pushed development to the top of the international agenda when Britain held the presidency of the Group of Eight in 2005.

Shift in foreign tone

Brown has accepted responsibility for the decision to back the invasion of Iraq, but will want to distance his government from Blair’s approach, which was deeply unpopular among voters.

”The opportunities and challenges of the modern world require, in my view, a diplomacy that is patient as well as purposeful, which listens as well as leads,” said Miliband.

Britain has been drawing down troop numbers in Iraq and now has about 5 500 in the south of the country. While Brown has pledged to respect Britain’s commitments in Iraq, there is speculation the withdrawal may accelerate.

”Miliband wasn’t closely associated with the decisions that were taken in the Iraq war,” said David Mepham, head of the international unit at the Institute for Public Policy Research. ”It’s an asset when meeting foreign secretaries in other countries in getting people to focus instead on the problem of how to move things forward in Iraq.”

Miliband was reportedly sceptical about the decision to go to war in Iraq and, according to media reports, voiced his dismay in the Cabinet at Blair’s reluctance to call for an immediate ceasefire in last year’s Lebanon war.

Hilary Benn was appointed Environment Minister, while former pensions minister John Hutton will take responsibility for energy policy in a new Business and Enterprise Ministry.

Brown will also try to respond to demands for more affordable housing in a country that saw house prices nearly triple during Blair’s decade in power. He is expected to make several significant policy announcements in the coming weeks. — Reuters

Additional reporting by Adrian Croft, Jeremy Lovell, Simon Rabinovitch and Sophie Walker

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