Labour Conference: Cabinet hint for Mandelson

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A strong hint that Peter Mandelson could be promoted to the Cabinet was delivered yesterday by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr Mandelson suffered a setback on Monday, when rank-and-file members did not elect him to the party's ruling national executive committee; preferring Ken Livingstone, the veteran left-winger. But Mr Prescott pointed out yesterday that under a rule change pushed through in Brighton this week, while it was now impossible for Mr Mandelson to be elected to the NEC, he could yet be appointed to one of the new executive places reserved for members of the Cabinet.

The suggestion that Mr Mandelson might join the Cabinet caused some surprise - since Mr Prescott and Mr Mandelson have not been known as Labour's bosom buddies. "Sometimes we've found ourselves on different sides of the argument and we've both got the kind of temperament where we express that," Mr Prescott told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. But he insisted: "We get on all right ... There's no doubting the professional abilities of Peter.

"I'm sure Peter would probably have got on the executive - but we are now changing the rules so that probably won't happen unless he is appointed from a Cabinet."

Tony Blair is thought to be planning to make Mr Mandelson Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, in place of David Clarke, and in charge of a revamped Cabinet Office machine that would, in effect, become the Prime Minister's Office.