Blair recalls Mandelson to run election campaign

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Indy Politics

Peter Mandelson has been recalled by Tony Blair to help to plan and run the Labour Party's next general election campaign.

The summons, issued during a weekend summit at Chequers a week ago, is a sign of how keen the Prime Minister is to rehabilitate his old friend and trusted adviser, having lost his Director of Communications, Alastair Campbell, who is leaving front-line politics.

But it has caused anxiety at the Labour Party's Old Queen Street headquarters, where staff are already bracing themselves for a campaign marked by continual accusations that they are obsessed with "spin".

The problem could be made worse if Mr Mandelson, who rose to fame as the most accomplished spin doctor in British politics, is seen to be playing a prominent role.

One senior figure, who expects to play an important role in the election campaign, described Mr Mandelson yesterday as "part of the problem, not the solution".

The Prime Minister held a follow-up meeting on Friday in Whitehall with a select group of advisers to kick off the process of drawing up Labour's next election manifesto.

Others present, besides Mr Mandelson, included the pollster Philip Gould, who has worked closely with Mr Mandelson for 17 years, Leslie Butterfield, chairman of the BDDH advertising agency, who has advised on previous election campaigns, and Matthew Taylor, who headed Labour's research department in 1997 and was brought back to work in Downing Street last week after running an independent think-tank.

The meeting was held without any leading politician, such as the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott or the party chairman Ian McCartney, taking part.

However, Mr Mandelson said last night: "This story has no legs, no foundation and no scintilla of truth."

Clare Short, who served for six years as International Development Secretary before resigning earlier this year, has described Mr Blair's reliance on "spin doctors" and other image advisers as "the disease that has eroded the integrity of the Blair government".

Writing in today's IoS, Ms Short says: "We have a Prime Minister so focused on presentation that there is inadequate consideration of the merits of policy - and beneath the smiling demeanour, a ruthlessness that is accompanied by a lack of respect for proper procedure, and a willingness to be 'economical with the actuality'."

Mr Mandelson's rehabilitation may help to quell speculation that Mr Blair is thinking of quitting and handing over to the Chancellor, Gordon Brown. Mr Brown has been squeezed out of the pivotal role he played in the past two general election campaigns. The recall of his bitter rival will be another sign that Mr Blair and his circle are still running the show.

The Government is expected to come under attack next week at the TUC annual conference, and again at Labour's party conference at the end of September which is likely to pass a resolution condemning the proposal to allow NHS hospitals to convert themselves into foundation hospitals. The legislation creating them will come under heavy attack when it is introduced in the House of Lords tomorrow.