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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'