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Thursday, 8 March, 2001, 18:13 GMT
Mandelson's future hangs on report
The former Northern Ireland secretary Peter Mandelson
Peter Mandelson resigned from office in January
By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder

Peter Mandelson's chances of rebuilding a future in public life will become clearer on Friday with the publication of the long-awaited report into the cash-for-passports affair.

After numerous leaks suggesting the inquiry has cleared him of lying about his part in the affair, the release of the full report - with Sir Anthony Hammond's conclusions - has become one of the most eagerly awaited events in Westminster.

If, as suggested, it vindicates Mr Mandelson it will spark immediate demands for his return to the political stage and raise a huge question mark over Tony Blair's decision to force him from office before establishing all the facts.

If, however, there is any criticism of the former Northern Ireland Secretary's behaviour it will finish off any lingering hopes he may harbour of a second political comeback.

It will also lead to serious questions about the leaking of selected elements of the report and an associated spin campaign.

Either way, the report will light fireworks in Westminster.

Mr Blair, his official spokesman Alastair Campbell and Home Secretary Jack Straw have already faced accusations that they ousted Mr Mandelson in a kangaroo court.

Mr Straw, in particular, has come under attack for accusing Mr Mandelson in a television interview of telling an untruth.

It was claimed at the time that the former Northern Ireland secretary was sacked quickly because Mr Blair and Mr Campbell were desperate to avoid negative headlines.

Innocence

From the time he announced his resignation, Mr Mandelson insisted he was innocent of lying about his role in the affair.

But whether a favourable report would be enough to to see him reinstated to the Cabinet still remains to be seen.

Mr Mandelson appeared to change his story during the affair and infuriated party leaders by insisting he would battle to clear his name.

The last thing Tony Blair wanted just weeks before the general election was the diversion of a high-profile campaign by Mr Mandelson trying to save his reputation.

The former minister, who previously resigned from government after taking a home loan from a colleague, also has many enemies inside the cabinet who would not want him back.

And, as he appeared to admit himself during his resignation statement, he has always attracted controversy and negative headlines.

So, many believe that it will be virtually impossible for the prime minister to bring back his old friend and closest advisor.

In any case, it is said the relationship between the two men has suffered badly as result of the affair and has not been improved by the selective leaking of parts of Sir Anthony's report.

Probably the best Mr Mandeslon can hope for is to clear his reputation so he can pursue other interests.

The worst scenario for him is to be subjected to serious criticism in the report's conclusions.

Mr Blair, on the other hand, will be eager not to be shown to have acted precipitously and sacrificed his closest political friend for nothing.

BBC News Online's special report on the passport for favours affair

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Inquiry report

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See also:

06 Mar 01 | UK Politics
06 Mar 01 | UK Politics
05 Mar 01 | UK Politics
08 Feb 01 | UK Politics
05 Feb 01 | UK Politics
04 Feb 01 | UK Politics
09 Feb 01 | UK Politics
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