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Wednesday, 24 January, 2001, 18:47 GMT
Derek Draper answers your questions

Derek Draper, former aide to Peter Mandelson, answered your questions on Mr Mandelson's resignation from the cabinet.

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Host: We have had a number of questions all from the UK - the first one from Dr. O'Toole: With the General Election on the horizon we must assume that Tony Blair said: Mandy you are the weakest link - goodbye! Do you think damage limitation was at the forefront of Tony Blair's thinking, given that a General Election is looming?

Derek Draper: Without a doubt, I think that Tony Blair would have looked at this morning's newspapers - he had Peter in and would have said - look what has really gone on here and what else might come out? What about this phone call, about this passport application, about the Hindujas generally? I think there are issues about who else contacted the Home Office about this passport. I think there are separate issues to ask about exactly what relationship the Hindujas had with the Prime Minister and the people who work for the Prime Minister. So I would have thought the newspapers tomorrow morning and especially the Sunday newspapers which like to go deep into everything and investigate - will be looking in great detail at all of these loose ends and trying to tie them up and trying to get another scalp on the way.

Host: So was it really the fact that he wasn't truthful with Alastair Campbell that really was the killer blow for him?

Derek Draper: Well apparently so. I don't know the details of this and I don't suppose we will ever know until the memoirs come out and even then we will have to pick and choose. It looks like Alastair Campbell has been totally furious about what happened.

Matthew Souther, London: As usual the power of the press ruled the day here. Peter Mandelson has spared the Labour Party from the sniping and back-biting of Tory hypocrites and their allies in the media in the run up to the election but do you think he was pushed or jumped himself?

Derek Draper: There was no doubt that Peter wanted to stay on and that is why he went around London television studios yesterday evening saying - I haven't done anything wrong and I don't regret and I would do the same thing again. Well, you can't say that one evening and then the following morning then offer your resignation unless somebody has made you change your mind in the meantime.

Host: So Tony Blair clearly decided that he had to lance the boil - to make clear that something had been done wrong and the Government would not put up with that - he would not put up with that.

Derek Draper: Absolutely. Why they didn't decide yesterday and spare Peter the embarrassment of going into television studios with an ashen face, digging himself deeper into a hole, I do not know. I can only assume that the normal competence that characterised New Labour has deserted them.

Host: Now you have known Peter Mandelson for many years - is there a psychological flaw that makes him not understand problems that he needs to deal with and things he should say to avoid these sorts of problems? When he was a spin doctor for the Labour Party he would have been so ready and astute about dealing and advising other people about.

Derek Draper: You are right. He could never apply the insight and judgement that he could display when he was advising people to himself. That has been his downfall. That and also a weakness where he couldn't stay away from rich and glamorous people. He seemed to go ga-ga whenever he met such a person and that coloured his judgement. And his judgement as you have already said, was already weak when it came to deciding what was right for him.

Peter Roberts: It doesn't look for Blair either - basically he has given Peter Mandelson two chances and he has let down everyone including himself. How is this going to affect the Government and Blair himself ? We must remember that Peter Mandelson was forced to resign before over the home loan affair two years ago ?

Derek Draper: This echoes William Hague's attack at Prime Minister's Question Time today. He said this is not just a question of Peter Mandelson's judgement but Tony Blair's judgement for backing him. I think that if Peter Mandelson disappears from the political scene then it will go, it will end with Peter Mandelson. I don't think that anyone else in the country is going to keep blaming Tony Blair for this. They will think he made a mistake bringing this guy back - but they will also say that he gave his friend another chance. Also Peter has been reasonably successful in Northern Ireland - so it is not all bad, you have to look at it in the whole. But maybe Tony Blair is regretting it - one thing for sure I don't think he will be inviting him back.

Chris Power: Labour need to focus on the issues that will get them re-elected and Peter Mandelson has frequently been the source of Labour boat-rocking - his resignation will hopefully bring about more stability to the Cabinet as it prepares for the crucial election. But the question is: Will Peter Mandelson be allowed to have a role in the campaign?

Derek Draper: I don't think he can have any role in the General Election campaign - especially informally. Anything behind the scenes and the media will be there with their long-distance lenses and it will be all over the papers and it will distract from whatever message the Government is giving out. So no, he can have no role in the election campaign. But I would say this, he will still be having those night phone calls or early morning phone calls with the Prime Minister. Tony Blair is not going to give up the kind of advice he can give.

Host: How serious a blow is it to Tony Blair and to the advisers he has around him? As you have said Tony Mandelson has been one of his closest advisers - will he be missing that very close advice - that person he can trust above all others?

Derek Draper: No, because Tony Blair will still be ringing him up. The one thing that Tony and Peter can still do without any of us ever discovering it is have those sort of conversations. Last time Peter resigned he spent the following weekend at Chequers and that sent a signal out to the world which was this guy is going to come back. I don't think he will be there this weekend and I don't think he will be there before the election but I would wager that a month or two after the election we will read in the newspapers that Peter Mandelson has been to Chequers.

Host: How much will he be missed in the formal strategic thinking, the planning and the operation of the election?

Derek Draper: Not very much I don't think. There are other people around - Gordon Brown particularly who is a great election strategist. And people like Douglas Alexander an up and coming MP - they will be able to take over the formal strategy to plan the election. Peter always brings a lot of benefits to anything he is involved in but there is baggage there as well. I would have thought that the Labour Party will miss his contribution but feel that they can get on with the job quite well without him.

Helen Panton: Do you think the Prime Minister will cut himself loose from Peter Mandelson? - You are saying you don't think he will or we may not know about that. Chris Ruddle says: Mandy will be back in government within a year - that is a brave prediction - I wonder how many lives he has left? Is a return to government likely?

Derek Draper: No, not only that I would have thought there is a safe seat in Hartlepool for somebody that wants it. I don't imagine that Peter Mandelson will stand to be an MP at the next election. I think he will decide that he is better off out of politics. I think that he will end up being one of those rich, exotic people that he couldn't keep away from when he was an MP and I think he probably will be a happier man for it.

Host: So what is the future for him outside of politics? What sort of career can you see him embracing?

Derek Draper: I think he could be a brilliant marketing person. I think he would be a brilliant strategist. Any numbers of boards of multi-national companies will want to have someone of his insight and don't forget his contacts. But for Peter it won't be so much having positions on boards as actually getting stuck into another career - maybe running his own business that he could build up. He has always wanted to live above his means - that was the whole problem of the loan - he wanted to have a house that somebody on his salary could not have. Well now he can go off and earn his way. I don't think he will have a problem earning lots of money. I think he will end up being happier than he ever has been than when he was slaving away as the MP for Hartlepool and in different ministerial jobs.

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