Mandelson denies right-wing agenda

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

The Labour MP and former spin-doctor-in-chief, Peter Mandelson, yesterday hit back at claims that he was preparing a right-wing agenda to ensure the party's success in office.

A welter of criticism from Labour left-wingers and some shadow Cabinet members greeted the leaking of a draft synopsis of a book submitted by Mr Mandelson, MP for Hartlepool and close confidant of Tony Blair, to publisher Random House earlier this year.

The synopsis attacked by traditionalists as being far to the right of anything so far considered, gave credit for what the Conservatives have "got right", with suggested chapters raising issues including co-operation between a Labour government and the Liberal Democrats to ensure a longer- term, stable, left-of-centre government, a cut in the number of Scottish and Welsh MPs, the abolition of universal child benefit, freeing schools from local education authority control and no-strike deals in the public sector.

When Random House decided not go ahead with the project, Mr Mandelson, one of the architects of "new" Labour, and co-author Roger Liddle, former Labour defector, SDP parliamentary candidate and Liberal Democrat, turned to Faber & Faber, which will publish a different, milder, book, The Blair Revolution: Can Labour Deliver? in February.

Critics claimed the document showed Mr Mandelson, the party's former communications chief, trespassing on other spokesmen's territory and called on the Labour leader to rein him in.

Mr Mandelson, a spokesman on the Civil Service and a key player in Labour's election team, said: "This book will contribute to the public's understanding of what new Labour stands for and its thinking on a range of policy issues. It expounds and enlarges upon party policy. It doesn't contradict it." He added: "With my record I would be the last person to want to do that."

Those of his colleagues who had been "wound up" to react to the book before publication would be "pleasantly surprised" by the finished product.

The book had been written when he was not a frontbencher, but he declared: "Now I am one I want to continue acting as a politician with a voice of my own in support of party policy rather than as erstwhile spin-doctor and behind-the-scenes media man allegedly pulling the strings. People shouldn't try to have it both ways. They say they want me to come out from the shadows with a voice of my own and then complain the moment I do so."

Mr Mandelson is one of the Labour leader's closest advisers, rated for his strategic brain and campaigning skills. His critics claim that even though the synopsis has been dropped, it indicates Mr Mandelson's thinking. But Mr Blair's office stood by him yesterday. "The synopsis was written before he became a frontbencher and highlighted areas to be examined in a book that didn't happen. The question is what solutions you come up with," a spokesman said. The new book would stick to party policy.

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