Patrick Diamond, political adviser to Tony Blair and friend of Peter Mandelson, is expected to be chosen this week to be Labour's candidate in what could be the longest and nastiest by-election of the year.
If he emerges as Hartlepool's new MP, it will be a sign that Mr Mandelson's legacy lives on, though he himself will have moved to Brussels to be a European Commissioner. Mr Diamond, 29, was employed by Mr Mandelson as his political adviser in the Northern Ireland Office. He now advises Mr Blair on education.
Labour Party managers are considering holding the Hartlepool by-election on 7 October. That would infuriate the Conservatives, because it would clash with their annual conference in Bournemouth.
The earliest possible date would be 30 September, but that has been ruled out because it would clash with the Labour Party conference.
The Liberal Democrats claim that their recent by-election successes in Brent East and Leicester South show that they can win Hartlepool, despite the 14,571 majority bequeathed by Mr Mandelson.
Privately, Labour organisers admit that there is a high risk they will lose. They are hoping the UK Independence Party, which did well in Hartlepool in June, will put up a candidate and split the "protest" vote. The Conservatives are facing the grim prospect that they might be pushed into fourth place.
The risk of defeat appeared to be preventing high-profile candidates from putting their names forward last week. Mo O'Toole, former MEP for the North-east, decided not to run, and it was reported that Mr Diamond had also pulled out - but by the end of the week, members of the Hartlepool Labour Party were receiving phone calls from him asking for their support.
This has prompted complaints that somebody must have supplied Mr Diamond with a list of names and numbers of local party members - information that has not been made available to other would-be Labour candidates.
Those said to be interested in the seat include the former MEP David Bowe, the former Hartlepool council leader Russell Hart, and local party members Ian Wright and Pam Hargreaves.
The Labour leader on Hartlepool council, Steve Wallace, is said to be backing Mr Diamond, although he has not ruled out being the Labour candidate himself.
One senior party figure said: "In true Peter fashion, it's dripping in Machiavellian plots here, and nothing is what it seems."Reuse content