Mandelson still harbours hope of political comeback

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Peter Mandelson, the former Northern Ireland secretary who twice resigned from the Cabinet, revealed yesterday he still has ambitions of returning to a senior political job.

Peter Mandelson, the former Northern Ireland secretary who twice resigned from the Cabinet, revealed yesterday he still has ambitions of returning to a senior political job.

Mr Mandelson, who as Labour's director of communications earned the title "Prince of Darkness" for his mastery of the art of spin, said he wanted to be seen as a politician in his own right and to step out from Tony Blair's shadow.

In a television interview with Alastair Campbell, the former Downing Street director of communications, Mr Mandelson, who insisted he had "not been an unsuccessful minister", appeared to talk up his suitability for a posting as a European commissioner.

He signalled that he would like to return to the Cabinet under a future Labour leader, and heaped praise on Gordon Brown in an apparent attempt to heal the decade-old feud between the two which began when he endorsed Tony Blair for the Labour leadership.

In the interview, to be broadcast on channel Five tomorrow, Mr Mandelson expressed frustration at his role in the shadows behind Mr Blair, saying he "fought against" his role as minister without portfolio.

He said: "There's always been a fight within myself, and sometimes with others, about whether Peter is going to remain Peter the Process Man, or whether Peter is going to be allowed to become Peter Mandelson, the politician and the minister, and I still feel that going on a bit."

Asked if he believed he could return to government under a new leader, Mr Mandelson replied: "I don't sit by the telephone waiting for somebody to call. There is a large bit of me that does not want to return to the front line if it means returning into the firing line of all the nastiness of modern politics. On the other hand, I can't shake it off. I am elected. I am a politician. I was not an unsuccessful minister and I would like to be seen in my own right as somebody with strengths and weaknesses, pluses and minuses, and judged on his own merit rather than as an adjunct to somebody or something else."

He praised the Chancellor as the "natural successor" to Mr Blair, but after a preview screening yesterday Mr Campbell said: "I agree if there were a vacancy tomorrow, if you were a betting man you would have your money on Gordon not least because he has his CV as one of the most successful chancellors ever probably, but Tony is the leader and I think he has got quite a lot left in him.

"I think Tony is in a far stronger position than that little frenzy a few weeks ago might have led the public momentarily to believe. He is a huge asset to the Labour Party as we get into the election cycle. The future will look after itself."

Mr Mandelson accused Mr Campbell of "rushing to judgement" over the Hinduja passport affair which led to his second resignation in 2001. Mr Campbell in effect scuppered Mr Mandelson's chances of surviving the incident during a morning briefing to political journalists when he refused to say that the then Northern Ireland secretary enjoyed the Prime Minister's confidence.

Mr Mandelson told Mr Campbell: "I think you rushed to judgement. I think, as my friend of 25 years' standing, you might have given me the benefit of the doubt and you chose not to." Mr Campbell also questioned Mr Mandelson over the home loan from Geoffrey Robinson, the former paymaster general, which caused his first resignation.

* Alastair Campbell Interviews Peter Mandelson will be on Five at 7.30pm tomorrow.

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