Tony Blair ally Alan Johnson is to replace Andrew Smith as Work and Pensions Secretary.
The Hull West and Hessle MP is a former Trotskyite trade union leader turned Blairite. He is moving from the Department for Education and Skills where he was higher education minister. He took a determined stance in backing university top-up fees.
His new role will see him in charge of the social security budget and he is expected to oversee the Pensions Bill. Pundits are tipping him to announce significant shifts in party policy ahead of the next general election that could see a change in Labour's policy on the second state pension and pension rating.
Johnson served on the Trade and Industry select committee and became Parliamentary private secretary to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in 1997. In 1998, he became PPS to the Paymaster General. He became minister for competitiveness at the DTI in 1999.
After the 2001 general election, Johnson was promoted to minister of state for employment relations and regions, at the DTI, with industry added to the portfolio in 2002. In the 2003 reshuffle, he was moved to the education department.
Cicero Consulting director Iain Anderson says: “This move is as significant as Alan Milburn's appointment. A significant person in the pension and savings brief indicates a move away from the DWP as an extension of the Treasury. He will take the Opposition's best ideas and build them into Labour policy.”
Johnson is a former postman who became general secretary of the Communication Workers Union. He was credited with helping to defeat the Conservative Government's plans for Post Office privatisation, surprising many when he hired Tory PR Lord Bell to help win the propaganda war.