Following Labour's victory in last Thursday's General Election, Culture Secretary Chris Smith has been sacked as part of Prime Minister Tony Blair's Cabinet reshuffle. Smith, who returns to the back benches of the new Labour parliament, was replaced this weekend by Tessa Jowell, formerly minister at the department of education and employment.

Though not always popular within the theatre sector, Smith, an avid opera and arts lover and one of the country's most prominent gay politicians, was generally viewed as effective in the position which he has held since the last election in 1997.

Smith was instrumental in revamping the previously titled Department of Heritage into the modern and forward-looking Department of Culture, Media and Sport. And he has, reportedly, also been crucial in ensuring that the department's brief remains intact rather than being carved up between other Whitehall interests. Smith's achievements in office include free entry to museums and a £25 million increase in funding for theatres.

Smith's replacement is seen as a concerted effort to introduce both "fresh talent" and more women into the Cabinet. Jowell is joined in the government's new-look front bench by fellow female Blairites Patricia Hewitt and Estelle Morris.

Jowell is best known politically for her support of working mothers and family-friendly policies. Formerly a social worker and company director, she started her political career in the 1980s as a councillor in Camden, north London. In 1992, she was elected MP for south London's Dulwich and West Norwood constituency. In 1997, she became public health minister and began building up a prominent profile.

In recent years, Jowell has made headlines for her "super waif summit", in which she pleaded with advertisers and the editors of glossy magazines to take responsibility for women's eating disorders, and for leading the campaign to ban tobacco sponsorship of Formula One racing events.

Jowell, who refers to her department as the "Ministry of Free Time" (as in France), is said to be fond and knowledgeable of culture - a frequent visitor to the Royal Academy and Tate Modern, a keen reader and a "great fan" of Mozart and the Royal Shakespeare Company. She has stated that her aim is to improve the quality of people's lives and leisure times.

- by Terri Paddock