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Friday, 9 March, 2001, 13:50 GMT
Q&A: Hammond and Mandelson
q and a
The BBC's political editor Andrew Marr examines the questions raised by the Hammond report's analysis of Peter Mandelson's involvement in the Hinduja passport affair.

Q: Is Mr Mandelson completely cleared of any blame?

A: Not entirely. He is cleared of improperly influencing colleagues to get the Hinduja brothers passports in return for their 1m contribution to the Dome.

He is also cleared of lying, or intending to deceive, which was the most damaging personal charge against him and which allows him to say he emerges without a stain on his character.

But the Hammond report paints a picture of dreadful muddle and confusion surrounding the Hinduja affair.

And Peter Mandelson's recollection of key events conflicts with that of other players, including Mike O'Brien, the Home Office minister; Jack Straw, the Home Secretary; Alistair Campbell, the prime minister's press secretary, and various officials.

Peter Mandelson himself accepts that he contributed to "this muddle" and apologised for his part in it on Friday morning.

Q: Is there any way back for him into government?

A: Today, both he and Tony Blair maintain the answer is no. He says he does not want to return and the prime minister says he will not.

Maybe this implies that he will return to working behind the scenes for Labour at the national level, as well as being a backbench MP.

But political memories are short. It is hard to see him living happily in obscurity.

It would not be surprising if he was offered a top non-elected job during the next parliament - perhaps a UN or EU commissionership - if Labour wins.

Alternatively, in a few years' time, whatever is said now, he might return to a future government.

Q: Has Mr Mandelson been a victim of his own creation - politics that are driven by the media and headlines?

A: Yes, at least in part. The journalists' lobby waiting for instant news from Mr Campbell contributed to the mood of panic which led Mr Blair to dismiss his old friend.

He had championed aggression and favours towards the press for years; the result was that he had very few friends in Fleet Street when he needed them.

Indeed, in a sense, Mr Campbell's power derives from the view of politics expounded by Mr Mandelson from the mid-1980s onwards.

Q: How damaging is the report for the prime minister?

A: It is not helpful, though the really serious passport charges have been helpfully dismissed.

The report leaves open the obvious question: if Mr Mandelson is a friend, is "somebody of ability and integrity" and so on, why was he fired? Did the prime minister panic?

We will not get answers to those questions, but they will lurk at the back of some voters' minds.

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See also:

24 Jan 01 | South Asia
Mandelson resigns over Hinduja affair
08 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Mandelson: A busy six weeks
05 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Downing Street moves to bolster Vaz
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