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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 September 2006, 11:31 GMT 12:31 UK
Mandelson stirs Brown debate
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

So did Peter Mandelson come to Manchester to praise Gordon Brown or to bury him?

Peter Mandelson
Mr Mandelson referred to Brown's flaws
Whatever he may have intended in his extraordinary interview on the BBC's Today programme, he certainly succeeded in stirring up the debate surrounding the relationship between Mr Brown and the prime minister.

That was already under fresh scrutiny in the wake of allegations that Cherie Blair had accused Mr Brown of lying when he said it had been "a privilege" to work with her husband.

In the interview, Mr Mandelson - who, along with Mr Brown and Tony Blair helped create New Labour - confirmed there had been a long-running breach between the prime minister and his chancellor.

It happened because Mr Brown "believed he could and should" have become leader after John Smith's death in 1994, and the chancellor had never reconciled himself to the fact he did not get something he "wanted so much".

This revelation, of course, came as little surprise to all those people, particularly in the media, who have regularly been ticked off by Labour's high command for daring to suggest such a thing.


But Mr Mandelson, who himself fell out with Mr Brown after switching his allegiance to Mr Blair in the campaign to replace Mr Smith, went further.

He suggested there was a reconciliation going on at the moment, a view encouraged by Mr Brown's own confession on Monday that he and Mr Blair had occasionally fallen out but regretted it.

It all added up to a clearing of the decks, putting old grievances and feuds behind them in the cause of future unity and electoral success.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown
Rift between Blair and Brown well known

Mr Mandelson referred to Mr Brown as "a man with a mission, a man with a plan" and spoke of his recognition of the need to change to a "more collaborative and unifying style".

He brushed aside claims that Mr Brown could not defeat Mr Cameron in an election saying: "I do think he is a winner. He has got a very solid body of beliefs. There is nothing surface or superficial about Gordon Brown. He has real depth and I think people want to see that in their nation's leader."

He added: "He may have all other sorts of flaws and shortcomings but the inner strength comes through."

No discussion

However, for those of a suspicious nature, and suspicion is running at unprecedented levels in Labour ranks at the moment, that last comment sounded like a not-very-thinly-disguised reference to past criticisms of Mr Brown's character.

And it comes with Mr Mandelson already facing claims of delivering coded attacks on Mr Brown at fringe meetings in Manchester.

As ever, especially with someone who picks their words so carefully, there will be different interpretations.

But with each passing hour those pre-conference calls from the prime minister for policy and not personality to dominate this week seem more and more unrealistic.

The irony is that it is Tony Blair's wife and his longtime New Labour partner who have apparently done most to make sure that is the case.

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