Page last updated at 19:43 GMT, Monday, 28 September 2009 20:43 UK

Labour learns to love Mandelson

By Ben Wright
BBC political correspondent, at the Labour conference in Brighton

It was arch, knowing, flirty and fiery.

Lord Mandelson has an actor's palate of pitches and voices. There was a touch of pantomime about his performance, with its exaggerated gestures and hammy asides.

Lord Mandelson
Lord Mandelson has proved a conference favourite

Most striking of all was the self-confident self-referencing that few politicians would risk.

"I know that Tony said our project would only be complete when the Labour Party learned to love Peter Mandelson", he said.

"I think perhaps he set the bar a little too high. Though I am trying my best."

The wolf whistles and standing ovation that greeted his speech marked a remarkable moment.

Blairites/Brownites

The Tony Blair quip may be apocryphal but it captures a truth. Peter Mandelson used to be viewed with deep distrust and suspicion by many in his party. The architect of Labour's wins was unloved.

A key ingredient of the feud that festered within Labour for years, the Brownites viewed Mandelson as a traitor for backing Blair over Brown.

At a Tribune rally in 1996 Gordon Brown is said to have told the crowd that when Peter Mandelson once asked him for 10p to phone a friend, Brown gave him 20p, saying "here, ring them all".

Peter Mandelson's skill is convincing the crowd that the party can still win. And as he glides around the conference centre and after-hours parties, he is clearly enjoying the role enormously

So today's speech, as Lord Mandelson used his own career as an allegory for the whole party with Gordon Brown gazing on, was striking political theatre.

As Lord Mandelson patronised and ridiculed the Tories in equal measure Labour's delegates felt a surge of something they have not had for a while - hope.

Peter Mandelson's skill is convincing the crowd that the party can still win. And as he glides around the conference centre and after-hours parties, he is clearly enjoying the role enormously.

The former minister Geoffrey Robinson, a close friend of Gordon Brown, is impressed: "He's a very confident man about his position, about the policies and the prospects. It's that confidence and bite that he brings that we haven't had yet or in the campaign that's coming. So he'll be absolutely crucial to us".

Years ago, a former conference favourite held up a jar containing a crab and christened it Peter.

But times have changed and in a peculiar way Peter Mandelson has become the John Prescott of this conference, tickling it in just the right places.

Of course the irony is that New Labour may have finally fallen in love with Peter Mandelson at the moment that many are predicting the party's demise.



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