Page last updated at 16:45 GMT, Friday, 3 October 2008 17:45 UK

Profile: Peter Mandelson

Peter Mandelson
Mr Mandelson says New Labour must be revitalised to win the next election
Peter Mandelson has dramatically sealed his reputation as the "comeback king" of British politics after being drafted into government for an unprecedented third time.

He gained his reputation for bouncing back when he was appointed to one of the most powerful jobs in Europe after being sacked twice from the cabinet.

That was down to Tony Blair - his close friend and confidant - but what makes his latest move all the more remarkable is that it is Gordon Brown that has brought him back into the heart of government, in his old role of business secretary.

Mandelson and Brown were once close and were, along with Mr Blair, the key architects of New Labour in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

But they fell out when Mr Mandelson switched his support from Brown to Blair ahead of the leadership contest in 1994 and they have conducted an on-off feud ever since, with Mandelson telling the BBC in 2006 that Mr Brown's feelings at "losing something he wanted so much" had created a "fissure" in the New Labour family.

Last year Mandelson said Mr Brown should face a contest for the Labour leadership. He said a "coronation" would be "off-putting to the public".

Dramatic twist

But relations have improved in recent months, with the EU Trade Commissioner publicly voicing his support for Mr Brown in this week's New Statesman while urging him not to abandon the New Labour "project".

"I do not think that changing the face at the top is the panacea some imagine," he said.

"But the whole of the leadership must remain true to the values and principles that have delivered us success in the past ten years."

Peter Mandelson
He thinks the government needs more imagination and better ideas

In 2004, Mandelson was appointed EU Trade Commissioner, to represent all EU nations in trade negotiations around the world, which was his second return from the political wilderness. He gave up his Hartlepool parliamentary seat ahead of his move to Brussels.

It was another dramatic twist in a career that has never been short of drama or intrigue.

Earlier this year Mandelson was involved in a public spat with French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who currently holds the EU presidency, over free trade.

Mr Sarkozy accused him of trying to sell out European farmers and appeared to blame his handling of the Doha round of trade talks for the "no" vote in the Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty.

Mr Mandelson said his position at world trade talks has been undermined and told the BBC he did not start the row but: "I stood up for myself, I'm not to be bullied." He said he believed the row was over but renewed his warnings on protectionism.

Formidable record

The episode contained echoes of Mr Mandelson's former career at Westminster, when he was never far from controversy.

One of the most memorable moments in the otherwise terminally dull 2001 general election was Mr Mandelson's victory speech.

In an extraordinary, emotionally-charged performance, the twice-disgraced Hartlepool MP declared at a post-poll rally: "I'm a fighter, not a quitter."

And ever since that day, and despite continuing high-level opposition right across the Labour Party, he has quietly worked behind the scenes for another resurrection - while publicly declaring he had no such ambitions.

For many, of course, his greatest successes were already long behind him.

That in itself was a pretty formidable record. He had helped create New Labour but the tactics he allegedly used - a mixture of spin, bullying and manipulation - won him as many enemies as friends both within the Labour party and the media.

Mr Blair accepted his friend was widely disliked within the party, once declaring his job would only be done when Labour had learned to love Peter.

That may have been a lost cause and even Mr Mandelson has since accepted that he probably made too many enemies at this time.

But what astonished even those who despised him was the nature of his demise. No one expected him to be that careless or un-disciplined in his personal dealings.

Loony left

Peter Mandelson
Mandelson had to leave Tony Blair's cabinet twice

Mr Mandelson was born on 21 October 1953 into the Labour aristocracy - his grandfather was Labour cabinet minister Herbert Morrison.

But he rebelled and joined the Young Communist League after Labour supported the United States' intervention in Vietnam.

His rapid return from the far left began when he won a place at St Catherine's College, Oxford.

He started on the road to party politics through a job at the economics department of the Trades Union Congress and from there joined Lambeth council in south London, from 1979 to 1982, during its "loony left" days.

Mr Mandelson moved on to become a producer for London Weekend Television, from 1982 to 1985, working on political commentator Brian Walden's programme.

It was there that he befriended John Birt, later to become BBC Director General.

He left to take up the role of Labour's director of communications, but his real ambition was a place in Parliament.

Natural successor

He resigned in 1990 to contest the Hartlepool seat, which he won in 1992.

Within two years, he was being seen as the kingmaker who thrust Tony Blair into the leadership in 1994 after the sudden death of John Smith.

This came at a time when everyone thought Gordon Brown was the heir apparent. Mr Mandelson sniffed the political wind and changed horses at the last moment.

Brown was thought never to have forgiven Mr Mandelson for this even though the ex-minister later said he believes the Chancellor is Mr Blair's natural successor.

Peter Mandelson
Mandelson backed Blair for Labour leader in 1994
After the 1997 election, he was swiftly rewarded with the job as minister without portfolio, a trouble-shooting role with responsibility for the Millennium Dome, whose contents, he promised would "blow your socks off".

Long before the Dome's doomed opening, he was made Trade Secretary in 1998 but was forced to quit on 23 December 1998 after The Guardian newspaper printed details from a book by Paul Routledge of a secret loan of 373,000 from his ministerial colleague Geoffrey Robinson.

The money was used to buy an expensive house in Notting Hill in London.

Owed him

Mr Mandelson had been in the post for barely six months.

But in a move that shocked many in Westminster, Tony Blair brought him back on 11 October 1999, as Northern Ireland Secretary, taking over from Mo Mowlam.

He was said to have been a successful minister even though he failed to dispel his reputation as an arch manipulator.

And he was forced to quit a second time in January 2001 over allegations of misconduct over a passport application for Dome supporters, the Hinduja brothers.

This was seen as terminal even though inquiries later cleared him of any wrongdoing.

And Tony Blair has always appeared to retain a genuine affection for and need of him.

The then prime minister was even reportedly planning to bring his old friend back into the cabinet, but was forced to drop the idea after stronger than expected opposition from Mr Brown and John Prescott.

Mr Brown had been predicted by some to finally kill off Mr Mandelson's career in frontline politics when his term as trade commissioner expired.

But in a move that has stunned the most seasoned of Westminster observers, he has decided instead to bring him back into the heart of British politics.

Even Mr Mandelson's sternest critics accept he is a slick political operator and a good networker.

And with four years as trade commissioner under his belt, he could be a valuable asset as Mr Brown seeks to beef up his government's response to the current global economic turmoil.




SEE ALSO
'Proud' Mandelson back in cabinet
03 Oct 08 |  UK Politics
Mandelson on world trade talks
29 Jul 08 |  Special Reports
I'm not to be bullied - Mandelson
08 Jul 08 |  UK Politics
Mandelson raps Sarkozy over trade
06 Jul 08 |  Business
Mandelson shrugs off Sarkozy jibe
20 Jun 08 |  UK Politics
Brown now 'firmly in the saddle'
10 Feb 08 |  Andrew Marr Show
Mandelson gives backing to Brown
04 Jul 04 |  UK Politics

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