Mawhinney enters world of darkness

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The Independent Online
It must be every Liberal Democrat's worst nightmare: the Prince of Darkness meets the Chicken Chairman.

Peter Mandelson, the man who masterminded Labour's election victory, is sharing an office during Parliament's summer break with Brian Mawhinney, who oversaw the Conservatives' road to disaster.

The former Tory chairman, who earned his nickname after abandoning his Peterborough seat for the safer shores of North West Cambridgeshire, has been moved into a House of Commons committee room while building work takes place in his office.

Unfortunately for all concerned, the same fate has befallen the minister without portfolio. Mr Mandelson, known as the Prince of Darkness because of his machiavellian tendencies and because of the description of him by Clare Short, now Secretary of State for International Development, as one of the "people that live in the dark", has had his name posted outside the same door.

While some Labour ministers appear to have insisted on billeting down together during the upheaval, Dr Mawhinney appears to be less fastidious about the company he keeps. As well as Mr Mandelson, the Tory spokesman on home affairs, is also sharing with the minister for employment and disability rights, Andrew Smith. Other Tories currently based in committee room 19 include the party's heritage spokesman, Patrick Nicholls, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Heathcoat-Amory and the MP for Windsor, Michael Trend.

Next door in committee room 18, however, peace and harmony reigns. The health minister Tessa Jowell is sharing with the industry minister John Battle, the film and tourism minister Tom Clarke and the agriculture minister Jeff Rooker. Even further down the corridor the Paymaster General, Geoffrey Robinson, is working alone although space is set aside for other Labour members.

Most of the uprooted ministers and Tory spokespeople appeared to be away on holiday last week, however. And sadly it is unlikely that Dr Mawhinney and Mr Mandelson will ever get the opportunity to flick paper pellets at each other across their shared office space.

A spokesman for Mr Mandelson said he spent much of his time in the Cabinet Office, although he could not take constituency work there. And by the time Dr Mawhinney returns from his holiday in early September the minister without portfolio will have gone away on his.

Ministers with departments to go to were lucky in having a wider choice of offices than their shadows, Mr Mandelson's spokesman pointed out. "I do hope Mr Mawhinney is getting used to spending time in the House of Commons again," he said.