Resurrection Mandelson: Born survivor back in power

It's almost 10 years since Tony Blair's closest ally was forced to resign – for the first time – from the Cabinet. Now friends and foes alike are amazed at the power he has managed to attract to himself

For Peter Mandelson, this Tuesday is special. There will be little by way of celebration, but it will not be the mournful anniversary he once feared. On 23 December, it will be 10 years since Lord Mandelson cast himself out of Tony Blair's Cabinet over his extravagant home loan from Geoffrey Robinson. How are the fallen, now, mighty.

"I can scarcely believe I am writing this letter to you," the outgoing Trade and Industry Secretary wrote at the time in his resignation note to Mr Blair, as he careered out of the New Labour project. "In the future," the Prime Minister responded, "you will achieve much, much more with us." Neither could have predicted that the arch-Blairite's contribution would – eventually – be from a position of unrivalled influence in a Gordon Brown government. He might even allow himself a John Sergeant-style sashay into work at the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR).

The return of the Prince of Darkness to the Cabinet was as improbable as his explanation that his new role is to make Brownites and Blairites laugh together again. Apart from the fact that few can remember when anyone from the feuding houses of New Labour ever shared much of a laugh, the new Lord Mandelson of Foy and Hartlepool was never the party's most likely unity candidate.

The political calculation behind his resurrection was simple: at a time when the Prime Minister's future was under threat, it would buy off mounting Blairite opposition and allow a tottering Mr Brown to concentrate on the economic crisis.

The desperate gesture appears to have worked – for the moment at least. The Blairite rump is becalmed and Mr Brown's personal standing in the country has improved. "Now the press brief thuds on to my desk with page after page about what Peter did and what Peter did next," said the Liberal Democrat peer Lord McNally. "One day he is Mephistopheles, the next day he is John Travolta."

The downside for many of the Prime Minister's most loyal camp followers is that, in under three months, his former deadly rival has managed to expand his sphere of influence to a point where he is Mr Brown's deputy in all but name. Rivals for that position, notably Jack Straw and Harriet Harman, are already suitably miffed, as the Prime Minister's circle of close confidants has effectively shrivelled to two – the loyal Ed Balls and the man he once considered his worst enemy.

"Calling Mandelson back could have been seen as a masterstroke if it was about offering a sop to the Blairites," a veteran Brownite glumly observed last night. "But it looks more and more like an act of desperation that has backfired completely."

Mr Mandelson has quickly become the ubiquitous face – and voice – of the Government on issues that often extend beyond his ministerial responsibilities. Now, however, his growing authority within the Cabinet and the party at large is being put to the test by two hugely divisive issues that are directly within his sphere of influence.

Lord Mandelson has come into conflict with the Chancellor over the prospect of a bailout to rescue the foreign-owned luxury car-maker Jaguar Land-Rover. The Secretary of State for Business has insisted he is not wielding an "open chequebook", but he is believed to support a rescue plan that could involve more than £1bn of taxpayers' money. Sources within his department claim Lord Mandelson favours an agreement whereby the Government would underwrite the firm's loans to allow it to continue trading, without necessarily requiring an injection of public funds.

"This firm represents 75,000 jobs and £3bn in R&D investment," a source at BERR stressed last night. "It would be astonishing if we ignored it."

But Mr Darling is stridently opposed to what the Treasury fears would be a "rushed" rescue. The Independent on Sunday understands that the Chancellor has challenged the idea because of the precedent it would set for other potential claimants. A Treasury official explained: "At the very least, we want to wait to consider this in a more measured way" – which would rule out a resolution before Christmas.

The spat will have consequences far beyond the workers at Jaguar and Land-Rover: it may force Mr Brown to rule between two of his most senior ministers, effectively a choice between the old guard and his new friend.

The Mandelson effect is also being felt outside the Cabinet. Late last week, the Business Secretary sat down with five worried senior Labour backbenchers to discuss his proposal for a part-privatisation of the Royal Mail.

Old-style MPs reported that the meeting got "pretty heated", as the minister refused to budge on their concerns and failed to answer questions over the timing of any legislation.

Lord Mandelson, who expressed a hope that the campaign against the "sell-off" would not get too personal, is unlikely to get his wish. Government whips report that some 50 Labour MPs are now poised to vote against the plans – and that the minister is a central target of their campaign.

His enemies should have learned by now that while Lord Mandelson never lost his knack for attracting controversy, he remains equally accomplished at attracting power to himself.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
Life and Style
videoJapanese prepare for the afterlife by testing out coffins
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford attends Blade Runner at Target Presents AFI's Night at the Movies at ArcLight Cinemas on 24 April, 2013 in Hollywood, California
film... but Ridley Scott won't direct
Hughes is hit by a bouncer from Sean Abbott
cricketStephen Brenkley on batsman's tragic flaw that led to critical injury
Dejected England players applaud the fans following their team's 3-0 defeat


Actress isn't a fan of Ed Miliband

The Bounceway, designed by Architecture for Humanity
newsLondon to add 'The Bounceway' to commuting options
Life and Style
Stefan Gates with some mince flies
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Rooney Mara plays a white Tiger Lily in forthcoming film Pan
filmFirst look at Rooney Mara in Pan
Life and Style
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
Life and Style

Do you qualify – and how do you get it?

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - IT Outsourcing - £70,000 OTE

£30000 - £40000 per annum + £70,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Reading , Sou...

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen / Interiors Designer - Maternity Cover

£21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company with a fast ...

Recruitment Genius: Trade Sales Counter Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This Market Leading Kitchen and joinery suppli...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Carpenter / Carpentry

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Junior Carpenter / Carpentry ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital