British Prime Minister Tony Blair was putting the finishing touches on his new team yesterday, as observers studied changes in the Cabinet for hints about his political future.
Blair won a third consecutive term in Thursday's national election, but voter disillusionment after eight years of Labour government and lingering anger over the Iraq war slashed Labour's majority and undermined Blair's once unassailable authority.
"He's prime minister, but the message is: time is running out," said the front-page headline in the Guardian newspaper.
The Daily Telegraph, noting the resignation of defeated Conservative leader Michael Howard, asked: "How long before Blair goes too?"
A chastened Blair said on Friday: "I have listened and I have learned."
"I think that what both the prime minister and everybody else in the Cabinet ... is focused on is doing a good job to tackle and deal with the priorities of the British people," Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett told British Broadcasting Corp radio yesterday. "That is what people are focused on."
Hours after being confirmed as prime minister by Queen Elizabeth II on Friday, Blair unveiled his Cabinet, changing leadership in defense and health, boosting the prominence of his Europe minister and bringing ally David Blunkett back into government.
Blair is expected to unveil changes to junior and middle-ranking government posts tomorrow.
As expected, Blair kept powerful Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown -- his key ally, rival and presumed successor -- by his side. Brown's strong stewardship of the economy played a key role in securing Labour's re-election.
Labour Member of Parliament (MP) Donald Anderson said the government's new agenda "will be a joint agenda of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown."
Blair's official spokesman said the shuffle showed "that he and the chancellor are working closely together."
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who has staunchly defended the government's decision to back the US-led invasion of Iraq, also kept his job in the Cabinet shuffle.
Blunkett, the hard-nosed former home secretary who was forced to quit last year after he was embroiled in a messy affair with a married American publisher, was brought back as Work and Pensions Secretary -- a key role as the government tries to cope with Britain's looming pensions crisis.
Blair is the first Labour leader to win three consecutive elections. But his triumph was tarnished, as the government's majority in the 646-seat House of Commons was slashed from 161 to 66.
In a final result declared yesterday after three recounts, Labour's junior foreign minister, Bill Rammell, retained his Harlow seat north of London by fewer than 100 votes. Voting in one other constituency was postponed because a candidate died.
Blair said his third term would see "radical" legislation on health, education and law and order, in response to voters' wishes.
But Labour's reduced majority could loosen Blair's grip on power and embolden those who want him to step down in favor of Brown before he has served a full term.
Blair's weakened authority could make it harder for him to push through planned changes in public services and secure a yes vote in a referendum on the EU constitution.
In an indication of how seriously the government takes that challenge, the new Europe minister, Douglas Alexander -- a key ally of Brown -- will also be allowed to sit in on the weekly Cabinet meetings.
In other changes, John Reid, Blair's gritty, tough-talking health minister, was moved to defense, replacing Geoff Hoon, who becomes the government's leader in the House of Commons. Former House of Commons leader Peter Hain replaced Paul Murphy as Northern Ireland secretary.
Conservative chief Howard, who led his once-mighty party to a third successive defeat, announced he would step down once party leaders decide on a successor, expected to happen in the next six months.
"I have said that if people don't deliver they go, and for me, delivering meant winning the election. I didn't do that," Howard said.
Despite the defeat, many Tories were emboldened by the party's improved showing -- up by more than 30 Commons seats -- and credited Howard with restoring order in the party.
SCHEDULE: The delegation is due to meet with President Tsai Ing-wen this morning and witness the signing of an MOU on bilateral health cooperation in the afternoon US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar yesterday arrived in Taipei aboard a US government plane at the head of a delegation that is the highest-level visit by a US official since Washington switched diplomatic recognition to China in 1979. Azar’s flight landed at Taipei International Airport (Songshan airport) at 4:48pm, nearly one hour earlier than scheduled, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. The apron where it landed is reserved for military aircraft, the Songshan Air Force Base Command said. The members of Azar’s delegation included HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, HHS Chief of Staff Brian
CHINESE FIGHTERS: Beijing marked the US Cabinet member’s visit by briefly sending two warplanes across the median line of the Taiwan Strait yesterday morning President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday met with US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar in the highest-level official meeting between the two nations since 1979. “It is a true honor to be here to convey a message of strong support and friendship from [US] President [Donald] Trump to Taiwan,” Azar said during the open portion of his courtesy call to the Presidential Office, which was streamed live online before Tsai and Azar held a closed-door meeting. “Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 has been among the most successful in the world, and that is a tribute to the open, transparent,
‘CROSS-STRAIT CONSIDERATIONS’: Groups said that the Ministry of Education’s policies excluded Chinese and students should not be blocked over political issues The Taiwan International Student Movement yesterday said it would protest today outside the Ministry of Education in Taipei against a policy that excludes some Chinese students from returning to Taiwan amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Since June 17, the ministry has allowed foreign students from 19 “low risk” and “medium-low risk” countries and regions to enter Taiwan. On July 22, it announced that it was relaxing restrictions to include students from all countries and regions who are graduating this semester and on Wednesday it further expanded entry to students enrolled in degree programs. A letter sent by the ministry on Wednesday to universities did
PARTNERSHIP AND LEARNING: A Princeton University health policy researcher said that the nation would be a ‘treasure trove’ of information for the US health chief US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar on Friday said he wants to learn about Taiwan’s “incredibly effective” response to COVID-19, even though the nation did things that the US has fumbled, such as having a unified strategy and citizens willing to wear masks. Azar leads a US delegation arriving today for a three-day visit to Taiwan. They are to meet with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and health system leaders, and Azar is to give a speech to public health graduates. “The message of this trip is about Taiwan,” Azar said in an interview, deflecting a question about China.