Mandelson to stand for party executive

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Indy Politics
He is becoming the political antithesis of Macavity the Mystery Cat. Wherever you may care to look, Peter Mandelson is there.

The minister without portfolio, who already sits on several cabinet sub- committees and who is in charge of the Millennium Experience, is to make a bid for even more power. He plans to stand for election to Labour's ruling body, the National Executive Committee. The move will be seen by Mandelson-watchers as the latest step along the route to political legitimacy for Tony Blair's arch-fixer.

The architect of Labour's election campaign has become well known as a spin-doctor and as one of the figures famously described before the election by Clare Short, now Secretary of State for International Development, as "men who live in the dark." Now he plans to make his name as a far more public figure.

"I want to build on the election success through membership of the NEC. After modernising Labour, we need to bring about lasting change in Britain. The party and the Government working closely together is crucial to achieving this," he said.

There is no guarantee that he will be elected to the body. Last year Jack Straw, now Home Secretary, found himself without a seat and will not stand again.

An aide to Mr Mandelson said that although he was perceived as being unpopular, this was not the case. "This is about setting out that he does have the support of the party. He spends a lot of time going around the country to constituencies and there is genuine warmth towards him," he said.

If he does achieve his aim, Mr Mandelson will sit alongside Robin Cook, David Blunkett, Mo Mowlam and Harriet Harman. Tony Blair and John Prescott have seats as leader and deputy leader. Gordon Brown's decision to step down leaves a gap. The election will take place under the one member, one vote system, with ballot papers being posted out in August and the result being announced at the party conference in Brighton in October.

Mr Mandelson's role seems to have been constantly expanding since the election. There had been speculation that he would be put in charge of a spending department, but instead he was given his current post in the Cabinet Office. Although he is not in the Cabinet, he apparently has more power than some who are. The cabinet committees on which he sits cover constitutional reform, London, home and social affairs, environment, local government, economic affairs, legislation, European issues, welfare to work and food safety. He is also responsible for the pounds 590m Millennium Experience in Greenwich, south-east London.

Every morning Mr Mandelson chairs the daily media meeting for press officers and ministers. He has even taken to visiting departmental press offices to inspect their work.

There is considerable nervousness and even jealousy among Labour MPs about his position. Many believe he acts as the eyes and ears of the Prime Minister, and worry that whenever he speaks he may be speaking on Mr Blair's behalf.

It is expected that the number of "big names" on the NEC will be scaled down in favour of more representation from the wider party. Ironically, the man at the heart of new Labour might only be able to sit on the NEC for a year in the seat he is seeking. If the party's latest modernisation plans go ahead, MPs will no longer be able to stand for the constituency section of the committee, although the Cabinet will be represented. Dennis Skinner and Diane Abbott are also likely to lose their seats.