Lord Mandelson described a group of MPs who persist in opposing Mr. Brown's rule, saying that they are "a small group who keep coming back...they wouldn't have voted for him in the first place." He is almost certainly referring to the Socialist Campaign Group, whom we spoke of yesterday - a band of 24 members who take a distinctly left wing stance on a number of matters including the scrapping of the Trident missile programme and the ID card scheme.
Lord Mandelson - has he been biding his time, waiting for a chance to take the Labour leadership? Image from Wikipedia, used in accordance with Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License
He went on to declare a few things he feels are important characteristics in a leader, listing amongst others, "being decisive. Secondly, in listening to people and respecting official advice you receive. And thirdly, introducing a bit of humour and jollity to your work." All things Gordon - who has a reputation for ignoring what his MPs tell him and is the near-epitome of a dour Scot - will need to work on. He predicts a challenge - also rather coincidentally hinted at by Charles Clarke, very much a Blairite MP, yesterday - may come in September when Labour meets for its annual conference in Brighton.
Mandelson is widely credited as the architect of New Labour, although "credited" would perhaps be replaced with "damned" amongst socialists and other traditional Labour supporters; is commonly thought of as responsible for Tony Blair's election in 1997 and has been involved in the making and breaking of several political careers - including his own on several occasions - before and since.
It can be tricky to know what Mandelson's thinking - he's the type of man who always has not just a few cards but a couple of packs and a blade or two hidden away in his clothing somewhere. But one thing that's certain is he plays a long game, as evidenced by the simple fact that, despite the various scandals he's been caught up in and two forced resignations, he's still around long after others would have called it a day and sloped off to become a company director making a bit of extra cash on the guest speaker circuit.
Despite his kingmaker reputation, one cannot wonder if he's been biding his time all these years, waiting until a chance comes when he can have a stab at becoming Prime Minister. He's too wise to have done so in the early Blair years when Tony's popularity was high and could not have done later on when he was embroiled in controversy. It looks like Labour have little - if indeed any - chance of winning the next General Election, at which point all indications are they'll take the kind of body blow they suffered at last week's council and European elections. If things don't start looking up for the party by Autumn (and assuming the Government hasn't bowed to popular opinion and called a ballot by then), Mr. Brown's popularity amongst the electorate and MPs will be lower than ever. If Labour do as badly as many suspect they will do in the General Election, it may well be the case that they will cease to be an effective force in British politics for many years, possibly leading to an age of Tory rule such as that we saw start with Mrs. Thatcher's success right back in 1979. If that happens, the Labour leadership will no longer be the plum job it has been seen as in the past, so if Mandelson really does want it later this year would be the ideal time for him to mount his assault.
Like the majority of the public, we are no fans of Gordon Brown nor his style of government and would be happy to see him go - but there's no doubt that he has to be better than someone with Mandelson's past record. The Prime Minister, you can't help but think, would be very wise not to trust him.