Family at heart of cabinet

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor Gordon Brown has put the family at the centre of his policy programme and first cabinet, in a shake-up designed to create a young-looking government that will tackle problems of social breakdown and try to restore traditional values.

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor

Gordon Brown has put the family at the centre of his policy programme and first cabinet, in a shake-up designed to create a young-looking government that will tackle problems of social breakdown and try to restore traditional values.

A reshuffle putting different faces at the top of all but one of the government departments featured the breaking up of the Department for Education and Skills and the establishment of a Department for Children, Schools and Families. It is headed by Ed Balls, who was partly brought up in Norfolk and has been one of the new prime minister's closest lieutenants for over a decade.

His responsibilities will stretch from schools to securing better parenting in problem families as part of the government's “respect” agenda. And they will be part of a drive led by Mr Brown, who has been emphasising his Scottish Presbyterian roots, to beat anti-social behaviour and secure a common understand-ing that rights must be earned and accompanied by social responsibility.

The prime minister is also to push constitutional change and reformed government up the political agenda. The new cabinet will meet again today - after its initial gathering yesterday - to discus this issue, and Mr Brown will make a statement in the Commons on Monday.

Mr Balls is married to housing minister Yvette Cooper, and they have three children. She will be attending cabinet meetings, and they will be the first ministerial married couple to sit at the top political table in Downing Street.

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The appointment of David Miliband as foreign secretary and Ed Miliband as cabinet office secretary has also given Britain its first brothers in cabinet since the 1930s.

Alistair Darling was confirmed as chancellor of the exchequer and Jacqui Smith has become Britain's first woman home secretary. But Mr Brown will not have a deputy prime minister.

In the youngest cabinet in modern times, Jack Straw became justice secretary and lord chancellor, Alan Johnson acquired health, and Des Browne remained defence secretary, and was additionally appointed Scottish secretary. A series of changes made the cabinet look radically different from the one left by Tony Blair. John Hutton took the new role of secretary for business, enterprise and regulatory reform, while the education department split also saw John Denham appointed innovation, universities and skills secretary.

Mr Denham resigned from the Blair government over the Iraq war. And a shift in emphasis on the Iraq issue was also signalled by the appointment as a Foreign Office minister of Mark Malloch Brown who, as the former deputy to Kofi Annan at the UN, repeatedly clashed with the US government over its foreign policy.

Hilary Benn is the new environment secretary, Ruth Kelly becomes transport secretary, and Hazel Blears is the secretary for communities and local government.

Baroness (Shirley) Williams is one of three Liberal Democrats given advisory positions.

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