Four-four-two? Four-two-four? A Christmas tree formation? Like a football manager preparing for the new season, Tony Blair has been tinkering with his ministerial squad and dabbling in the transfer market.
For players in the press and broadcasting industries, this not only means a new list of key players whose strengths and weaknesses they must analyse, it also looks suspiciously like a whole new tactical formation.
They’ll be closely watching video footage of new midfield general Tessa Jowell at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, who inherits the task of pushing forward the crucial Communications Bill. They’ll see how she tackles the BBC as decisions loom on new digital channels and radio stations; on the appointment of a new chairman; and on whether the corporation should be regulated by Ofcom. Looking for the loose ball will be Carlton and Granada, wanting to merge into a single ITV, and radio owners lobbying hard for relaxed ownership rules.
At the DTI, Patricia Hewitt will need all her defensive nous to cope with the attacking force of regional and national newspaper owners desperate to have the rules on cross-media and geographical ownership relaxed. Minister for e-commerce and competitiveness, Douglas Alexander, will also play a ball-winning role as the broadband revolution raises further questions over ownership.
Work and Pensions Secretary Alistair Darling will try to get forward as often as possible on proposals covering work and parents, equality, union recognition and fixed-term contracts.
Up front at the Home Office, striker David Blunkett steps into Jack Straw’s boots. But will he be as prone to wander offside on restrictions on press freedom – intended or otherwise — as his predecessor?
Then there’s surprise substitute Derry Irvine, new champion of Freedom of Information. He relieves the Home Office of its responsibility for implementing the act.
But shrewd tactical brains think that behind this new line-up, Blair is preparing a brand new formation – with himself as sweeper. They believe that, such is the importance he places on ownership rules, he won’t let those key decisions be made outside Downing Street.
That begs the question, how will marauding attackers like, say, Rupert Murdoch, be dealt with? Commentators haven’t been slow to point out the debt New Labour owes to his papers. Or how significant they will be when it comes to a referendum on the euro. Or that an OFT report into BSkyB and the pay-TV market is overdue.
Let’s hope player-manager Blair can forget all of that and let his team play their own game when Murdoch and his ilk start flying in with their studs showing.
For the good of the game in general.