Taking a spin around a spinner of news

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The Independent Online
It's strange what happens to those who ride bikes. They meet the oddest of people, find themselves in the quirkiest of situations. Peter Reynolds takes off his cycle clips and shares some of those moments

This morning it was Peter Mandelson who popped up in front of me on my cycle ride through London.

It's a regular, enjoyable and meditative experience. Strangely, it frequently brings me into close proximity with London's great and good. Maybe it's only in those few minutes each day that I am allowed to move in their elevated circles.

I think I irritated Mr Mandelson a little. Pedalling south down Ledbury Rd, approaching Westbourne Grove - me, a rather dishevelled, unshaven figure unwashed but enjoying the morning sun and there was another, in similar condition but on foot in baggy shorts, not looking too happy.

We hesitated for each other. I adopted a motorists attitude and he waited whilst I crossed the Grove. I acknowledged him with a friendly "Mr Mandelson".

"Good morning", he replied, the irritation evident that I had made him wait. The delight of cycling is to be motorist one minute, pedestrian the next - as it suits. Mr Mandelson should sympathise with this happy, chameleon condition. The thought amused me as I pedalled on.

It would be impossible not to admire a man who, whilst not the original, must be the most notable "spin doctor" of all. Yet, I fear that he has committed the cardinal sin, ignored his blind spot and chosen himself as his client. He cannot see the way that he is seen, even thought that is the essence of the skill he sells.

In the moment when one passes by on a bike, one can detect a lot. The bystander is observed without observing and by the time they do, you are gone. Mr Mandelson looks strained, and well he might. The management of perception is easier when everything is potential and the reality of government does not interfere. He has succeeded without compromise in his goal, obtaining the all-pervasive, dynamic, "without portfolio" role which is the zenith of his art. But should he have gone on to take on this Millennium job and even more?

The skills that are required of a spin doctor are - the analogy must be made - of those of a spin bowler: skilful in a gentlemanly way, deceptive within the rules, defensive and conservative in approach, making way for the fast bowler to come through but seizing any opportunity that is presented. Are these the same skills that are needed for the new role Mr Mandelson occupies?

To be a spin doctor, a manager of communication, is an honourable profession, a skill essential to the presentation of any message in a world where truth is subject to endless distortion. I am unsure that it is what is needed to be part of government.

Encouragement is also appropriate for someone who, in that unguarded moment, looked as if he needed it. Mr Mandleson takes full credit for managing New Labour through the media maze and into government. The country needs people who have the ability to manage communication like this. But do we need them running the country?

So I pay my respects yet I question his present role. Perhaps I underestimate him and he has other skills which we do not know? Or - is this the Peter Principle? I feel pretty sure that the man who is expert behind the scenes is not generally the man who is expert up front but, perhaps, he will confound us all.