Brown blocks Mandelson comeback

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GORDON BROWN has scuppered plans by Tony Blair to give Peter Mandelson control of the Labour Party machine. The Chancellor is determined to run Labour's Millbank headquarters himself after Mr Blair reshuffles the Cabinet later this month.

Mr Brown wants to team up with Ian McCartney, the left-wing Industry minister, who is popular with the Labour grassroots and is tipped for promotion to a key new role as link man between the party and government. "Gordon Brown wants to be commander-in-chief for the next general election and to start work now," said one Millbank source. "What he wants he usually gets, so we expect him to take over."

Mr Brown headed Labour's 1997 general election effort and, despite a heavy workload as Chancellor, turned round its lacklustre campaign in the run-up to the Scottish Parliament elections in May.

Mr Blair has come under pressure from Labour MPs to install the so-called "dream team" of Mr McCartney and Mr Mandelson at Labour HQ, and the Prime Minister was attracted by the idea. However, the proposed behind-the-scenes party role for Mr Mandelson ran into heavyweight opposition from Mr Brown and John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister. Close allies of Mr Blair said yesterday that the Chancellor's strong objections persuaded the Prime Minister to drop the plan.

Mr Mandelson, who resigned from the Cabinet last December after the disclosure of his pounds 373,000 personal loan from Geoffrey Robinson, could yet be given a ministerial post in this month's reshuffle. The Prime Minister is said to be torn over whether to bring him back or to leave him on the back benches for another year, as some Blair advisers are urging.

Next year, Mr Mandelson is likely to be given a formal role in Labour's general election campaign, possibly teaming up with Mr Brown. The one- time close friends ran the 1997 campaign together despite having a strained relationship since Mr Mandelson backed Mr Blair rather than Mr Brown for the Labour leadership in 1994.

Close allies insist the Prime Minister has made no decision on who to put in charge at Millbank. Other contenders include Mo Mowlam, who is to leave her job as Northern Ireland Secretary and could combine the party chief's job with that of Cabinet "enforcer", the post held by Jack Cunningham, who is likely to be sacked.

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