There has been much discussion over the last few months, especially on the blogosphere and including here, over whether or not Lord Mandelson wants and is ever likely to be Prime Minister or at the very least the leader of the Labour party.
Some have taken solace (Mandelson enjoys the same sort of popularity amongst the public as diarrhoea does) in the fact that having now been enobled and made a Life Peer, the ex-MP for Hartlepool cannot stand for any elected Commons post. Others - Acid Rabbi included - are so convinced and suspicious of Mandelson's slimy Machiavellian ways (he still manages to hang onto a political career despite two forced resignations and a major scandal, any of which would have finished off a mere mortal) that we were certain that, if he does indeed want the position, it would be only a matter of time before he turned up some arcane bit of legislation that enabled him to do so.
When asked by the Financial Times whether he would ever consider once again standing as an MP, mandelson replied: "It's not legally possible to do that. I am trapped. I believe it is for life." Hereditary Peers have been able to resign since the Peerage Act of 1963, legislation largely created by Tony Benn who gave up his title of 2nd Viscount Stangate so that he could stand as a socialist candidate. Mr. Benn became the MP for Bristol South East the same year, a position he held onto for twenty years and enjoyed an illustrious career in which he held an assortment of ministerial posts until his retirement in 2001. As one of the all-time most popular British politicians among both the electorate and MPs, he has been given the rare privilege of being allowed to continue using the Commons' library and refreshment facilities (anybody wondering if Acid Rabbi is not being entirely impartial during this brief biography of Mr. Benn and his career would be entirely correct). Life Peers however - perhaps as life peerages serve as a very effective way for prime ministers to bloodlessly dispose of anyone they suspect of being a dangerous rival - have not previously been given the same choice.
Mandelson can save himself the bother of searching though the rule books to see if there's an unguarded door he can sneak back in through, though, because on Monday a new Constitutional Reform Bill will go before Parliament, part of which will allow Life Peers to give up titles and stand as candidates for elected posts. There have been many calls for the Lords to be made up entirely of elected members which resulted in a 2007 Commons vote deciding that between 80 and 100% of the Upper House should be comprised of elected figures. At present, all Lords are appointed by the Government except for the remaining 92 Hereditary Peers who, upon death, are replaced by means of local by-elections. The new Bill will put an end to this practice so that - gradually - all hereditaries will be replaced with appointed peers.
Since the majority of the public say they are not in favour of hereditary peerages, this is likely to receive popular support. The more cynical political observer, meanwhile, may well wonder if garnering that support was always intended and if it was carefully designed as a smokescreen to shroud covert machinations by Mandelson himself.