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Politics & press news – Embassy 17 – June 2009

Reshuffle hits Foreign Office

Gordon Brown has appointed veteran MEP and social justice campaigner Glenys Kinnock to take over as Europe Minister, following the acrimonious departure of Caroline Flint.

Kinnock has close links to the political elite in both the Labour Party and the European Commission: her husband and former Labour leader Neil Kinnock is the architect of New Labour and following his resignation as party leader he was appointed the EU’s Transport Commissioner, going on to become Vice President of the Commission. Ms Kinnock knows the ropes in Brussels and Strasbourg, having served as an MEP since 1994. For almost a decade they were the golden couple of Brussels – one Sunday newspaper even likened the Kinnocks to the Kennedys.

EU diplomats will welcome a Europe minister with extensive experience in the occasionally arcane politics of the ‘Brussels bubble’, while envoys from the developing world will be pleased that a passionate advocate for the development issues has joined government.

Ms Kinnock has built formidable reputation as a campaigner for social justice, as the founder and president of One World Action, a development NGO, as well as being Patron of the Burma Campaign?and a Council Member of Voluntary Service Overseas. Prior to her resignation as an MEP she was a board member of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

She travelled widely as joint president of the European Parliament’s African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP)-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly and also as Labour’s spokeswoman in the European Parliament on international development.

An eloquent speaker on gender issues, Ms Kinnock’s addition to the cabinet will help deflect accusations by the departing Ms Flint that Prime Minister Brown’s cabinet is an old boys club.

In one of the most undiplomatic resignation letters in recent British history, Flint criticised Brown for running a “two-tier” government that excludes women from his inner circle.

She said: “Several of the women attending cabinet – myself included – have been treated by you as little more than female window dressing. I am not willing to attend cabinet in a peripheral capacity any longer.”

Speculation had been rife among European diplomats that Flint was on the verge of resigning and her departure has been greeted with some disappointment. “I always found her to be extremely competent, practical and to-the-point. We are sorry to see her go,” said one EU envoy.

However, diplomats are pleased David Miliband – widely considered as an effective foreign secretary – has kept his position despite earlier rumours that Lord Mandelson coveted the job.
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