Mandelson's happy return to Hartlepool

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PETER MANDELSON made his first formal constituency engagement yesterday since resigning over his pounds 373,000 personal loan from the former paymaster-general, Geoffrey Robinson.

Mr Mandelson, the former secretary of state for trade and industry and now simply MP for Hartlepool, visited a local company, Clydesdale Forging, to hear the management's concerns over energy costs and the level of interest rates. Later, he held his regular surgery in the town's civic centre.

Having rediscovered the routine of life as a backbench MP in his north- east constituency, he is expected to hold talks today with Bodo Hombach, the German Chancery Minister.

The visit to the company had been arranged while Mr Mandelson was still a cabinet minister. But the management was keen for it to go ahead to press for his help in its efforts to reduce electricity prices, which they complain have risen well above the inflation rate. Mr Mandelson promised to do what he could as the local MP.

Today's meeting in London with Mr Hombach is one of a series which the Prime Minister has asked him to continue despite having lost his ministerial post. They are aimed at strengthening political dialogue with the new Social Democratic German government and setting a new agenda for Europe- wide social democracy.

Mr Mandelson's agent, Steve Wallace, said Mr Mandelson had had about 200 letters of commiseration from constituents, and only one hostile one.

Mr Mandelson said it was "nice to be back among people who know me and take me for what I am and keep telling me to keep my chin up. This is a great town with no-nonsense attitudes. People are not swayed by the media." He said that after escaping the "fast political world of London" he felt "safe and secure in Hartlepool where my friends are".