Page last updated at 15:33 GMT, Friday, 3 October 2008 16:33 UK

Martha Kearney's week

By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's World at One

So what did he mean by that? The return of Peter Mandelson couldn't be more astonishing. Over the years his loathing of Gordon Brown was widely known.

Peter Mandelson
Mr Mandelson will want to avoid another resignation

To the Brownites, Mandelson was Private Enemy Number One. Now the Prime Minister has done something which even Tony Blair did not attempt - bring Peter Mandelson back into the cabinet, something he had asked for again and again.

The EU Commissioner has coveted a peerage and a return to his old job (which used to be at the DTI).

I detect the hand of Alastair Campbell in this manoeuvre. He has long regretted his role in Mandelson's second resignation which was seen as giving into the demands of the Westminster press pack.

Now Campbell has been advising Gordon Brown and must want to reunite the architects of New Labour.

It is, of course, highly risky and the chances of a big bust-up are high but I guess Mr Mandelson would think very carefully about resigning for a third time.

'All hands on deck'

His good friend, the writer Robert Harris, told Shaun on Friday's programme: "I'm extremely surprised. I never thought for a second he'd return to frontline British politics, but I think these are difficult times and it's all hands on deck...

The PM must hope that this will sharpen the dividing line with the Tories - and his charge that they are novices

"I think what it says to me is that the economic conditions are likely to get extremely tough next year, and that Gordon Brown is willing to reach out to virtually anyone to try and help steer the country through it."

The reshuffle also shows how much the tectonic plates have shifted recently.

When Gordon Brown first took over, his watchword was change and the promotion of new talent. The economic crisis means that experience is at a premium again hence the return of Mandelson and Margaret Beckett (another great survivor).

The PM must hope that this will sharpen the dividing line with the Tories - and his charge that they are novices.

So where does this leave the Conservatives?

Roy Jenkins once likened Tony Blair's attitude to election victory to an elderly butler carrying a precious Ming vase across a highly polished floor.

That is a simile with which David Cameron can identify only now the floor has been strewn with banana skins as well.

Tory conference

His team which has emulated New Labour in so many ways has inherited Mr Blair's pessimism about success too. "I am incredibly nervous" one of his inner circle told me in Birmingham this week.

It is not surprising. The economic crisis has changed the political dynamic. Did it overshadow the Conservative Party conference?

"Totally", according to one Shadow Cabinet member, "we will get no conference bounce in the polls and Gordon Brown has been strengthened inside the Labour party".

When I met the former shadow home secretary, David Davis, for lunch, he too acknowledged the problem.

"In a way it gives Brown a stage to walk but a year ago he was feting the end of boom and bust and talking up city slickers. If he was taking credit for it, he's got to take the blame for it."

Economic policy

But the first poll since the Tory conference (ICM for the Guardian) does suggest a bounce though Gordon Brown gets good ratings on handling an economic crisis.

Mr Cameron's speech - serious and sombre from a lectern - was well received in and outside the hall.

But questions remain about his economic policy.

Can he still share the proceeds of growth between tax cuts and spending if there is no growth?

And what about that pledge to match government spending? George Osborne told us this week that he will definitely be reviewing the final year 2010/11.

Anyway, at the end of the conference season, I am glad to be back sleeping in my own bed and looking forward to what should be a fascinating political time ahead.


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