UK – Prime Minister Tony Blair has named Alan Johnson as pensions minister following the surprise resignation this week of Andrew Smith – with the opposition dubbing the affair a “shambles”.

“Alan Johnson has been appointed Secretary of State for Work and Pensions,” said the Department of Work and Pensions in a release. “He joins from the Department for Education and Skills, where he was Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education from June 2003.” Before that Johnson was a junior minister for employment relations.

Johnson, 54, is seen as a Blair loyalist who can get things done, while Smith was seen as an ally of Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. The UK press and TV has been full of reports that Blair’s Downing Street office had been “briefing against” Smith to newspapers.

“We've had a Secretary of State brought down by spin and dissatisfaction at Number 10 with the quality of his performance in tackling the pensions crisis,” said David Willetts, pensions spokesman for the Conservative Party. “We have a shambles. We have a serious and growing crisis in our pensions.''

Johnson is the Member of Parliament for West Hull and Hessle in eastern England. He became a postman in London in 1968 and rose to become general secretary of the Union of Communication Workers in 1992.

He was elected Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle on May 1 1997. And was made Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in December that year.

Willetts also accused pensions minister Malcolm Wicks of being in danger of “misleading'” people over the Pension Protection Fund to be introduced next April.