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Saturday, 5 May, 2001, 14:12 GMT 15:12 UK
Mandelson faces new challenger
Peter Mandelson
Mandelson: Defending 17,508 majority in Hartlepool
Peter Mandelson is facing fresh opposition in his campaign to remain MP for Hartlepool.

The former Northern Ireland secretary is already being challenged by Miners' leader Arthur Scargill, who is standing for the Socialist Labour Party.


I would be surprised at the end of the day if he really stood

Peter Mandelson
But now John Booth, a former Labour Party press officer who was dismissed from his post in 1986 after a stormy association with Mr Mandelson, is also standing in the constituency.

Mr Booth, a 54-year-old Yorkshireman who has been a Labour Party member since 1970, is stand under the banner 'Genuine Labour'.

Expulsion

He will almost certainly be expelled from the party for fighting an official Labour candidate.

But speaking on Saturday, he said: "An MP is the trustee of people's hopes for a better life for themselves, their family and friends, their community and their country.

"That is why I am standing for election as Hartlepool's MP. I know Hartlepool, I know Peter Mandelson and I believe the town deserves better.

"The feeling that Mandelson has wiped his feet on Hartlepool seems widespread in the town.

"He appears to treat the place as an inconvenient interruption to more important things he has to do somewhere else."

Rift

Colleagues say the two men have not spoken to each other since Mr Booth's dismissal in 1986, when Mr Mandelson was Labour's director of communications.

Mr Booth said: "I've seen Mandelson twice - on both occasions he refused to speak."

Since leaving his post as Labour's chief press officer, he has worked as a freelance journalist for national newspapers.

John Booth
Mr Booth will stand in Hartlepool
He won "substantial damages" - understood to be about 10,000 - in a libel battle against Donald Macintyre, author of a biography on Mr Mandelson, and its publisher, Harper Collins.

The libel action concerned two paragraphs in the book which told of Mr Booth's recruitment to Labour's press office and his dismissal.

Just after the case, Mr Booth claimed in a New Statesman article that Mr Mandelson had told him: "If we terminate your contract as a press officer, I will make any fabrication of the truth and stick by it faithfully."

Mr Booth said that when his union, the National Union of Journalists, asked why he was being dismissed it was told: "This is not a problem identified at a specific time, nor is it entirely susceptible to description."

Mr Mandelson called Mr Booth's decision to stand against him as "sour grapes" over the former aide's sacking.

But the former minister dismissed the threat Mr Booth's candidature posed, saying: "The more the merrier. It is a free country and anyone can stand if they can afford the deposit.

"I would be surprised at the end of the day if he really stood. Let's see how many actually do stand when the election is called.

"It is an expensive business you know."

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See also:

30 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Scargill launches party manifesto
11 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Tories are 'neutered' says Mandelson
30 Mar 01 | UK Politics
North-south split persists: Mandelson
09 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Mandelson cleared but questions go on
02 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Scargill to stand against Mandelson
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