Oh Mr Mandelson, will they ever love you?

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The Independent Online
Labour's rank-and-file members yesterday humbled Peter Mandelson, one of the Prime Minister's closest advisers. Anthony Bevins and Fran Abrams report on a vote that kept the Minister without Portfolio off the party's ruling executive. committee.

Tony Blair once said: "My project will be complete when the Labour Party learns to love Peter Mandelson." Last night the party signalled that his journey was far from over. Despite the personal backing of Mr Blair, Mr Mandelson's high-profile attempt to gain political legitimacy had failed. He came eighth in a section of the committee where there were only seven seats available.

He was a prime mover behind the "red rose" modernisation of Party when he was Neil Kinnock's director of communications. Known chiefly as an arch-spin-doctor, he has more recently sought to gain extra gravity as a politician, with a cabinet seat his ultimate goal.

He said he was standing for election to address criticism that he wielded power without accountability in the party. "I want to be recognised by the party for what I am and what I do, in my own right," he said.

Last night he told Channel Four News: "I tried to get on to the national executive and people almost never get on on their first attempt. I was the runner-up. I think that's pretty respectable, pretty good going for my first attempt. But I didn't get elected, so it is a disappointment but you know you take the ups and the downs as a politician, and a touch of humility does you good."

Spin-doctors were out in force in the Brighton conference media centre, before and after the vote. The blow to the Minister without Portfolio and the Prime Minister's trouble-shooter was variously described as a setback and a humiliation for the man himself - but not a problem for Mr Blair. It was said Mr Mandelson's friends had advised him not to stand for the national executive, arguing that he was never going to win a place. But one source said Mr Mandelson's "arrogance" got the better of him, and if yesterday's defeat prompted a degree of humility, some good would come of it.

Another source said there was no question of the leadership being given a black eye, but there was a definite dig in the ribs when it was revealed that Ken Livingstone, the old Labour veteran, had won the seat on the executive, and Mr Mandelson had been rejected.

As part of the official "spin" it was said last night that many party members voted for national executive places on the basis of celebrity and stardom. "The NEC elections have always been a personal beauty contest," a source said. It was then suggested that in spite of his own self-promotion, Mr Mandelson was not very well known among party members. That notion was undermined by the added thought that the summer spat between John Prescott and Mr Mandelson, over who was in charge of the Government while Mr Blair was on holiday, had done Mr Mandelson no good. A senior source said Mr Mandelson was controversial, a talented and important person, who had played a very important role in the development of New Labour, "and will continue to do so".

Yesterday's conference delivered an overwhelming vote of backing for the latest stage of the party modernisation project, "Partnership in Power".

This afternoon Mr Blair will tell the conference Labour won the election because people who had wanted change from the Tories had responded to change in the Labour Party.

He is expected to say: "A quiet revolution is being led by the real modernisers; the British people." But he will also warn against complacency in the party, saying: "This is not a time to coast."

His aim, he will say, is to lead one of the great radical governments of our history. "We will never be the biggest, we may never be the mightiest, but we can be the best."

According to a source who has been involved in preparation of the speech, Mr Blair will also warn of tough decisions ahead on welfare reform, saying that the one thing he does not want to hear from the Royal Commission on long-term care is a call for more money, and the need for higher taxes.

The source said the Prime Minister wanted imaginative solutions in that area - as in other areas of welfare.

He said that the prime principle for pensions reform would be that the Government had a duty to help first those who needed help most: an implicit suggestion that those who could look after themselves should do so.

Conference reports, pages 7-9