Where can Mandelson find a home in a Blair reshuffle?

Napoleon, it is said, was more interested in lucky than competent generals. If so, he would have warmed to Tony Blair. Our Prime Minister had the good PR fortune last week to discover the value of diversions.

Napoleon, it is said, was more interested in lucky than competent

generals. If so, he would have warmed to Tony Blair. Our Prime Minister

had the good PR fortune last week to discover the value of

diversions.



The release of the two British nurses convicted of murdering a colleague

in Saudi Arabia, which had hypocritical dogs savaging unspeakable dogs

who bought up their story, and the Northern Ireland referendum combined

to let Labour off the hook.



All this helped to temper criticism of the failure of the G8 summit to

deal adequately with Third World debt; the Government-assisted return of

the unions to menace the economy through the proposed 16-point extension

of workers’ rights; and rising hospital waiting lists, school class

sizes and inflation.



In these conspiracy ridden days, the only surprising thing is that

nobody has suggested that Alastair Campbell personally arranged for

Lucille McLauchlan and Deborah Parry to be sprung last week from their

Damman gaol. Instead, we now have another diversion: reshuffleitis. And,

such is today’s preoccupation with presentation at the expense of

substance, that the main interest focuses on the promotion of Mr Blair’s

Svengali, Peter Mandelson.



Labour’s Minister without Portfolio wants a proper job - a portfolio, to

be precise. I don’t blame him. However important presentation is, he

cannot be taken seriously as a politician, as distinct from an eminence

grise, until he has run a government department and demonstrated his

command of the Commons. He has to put spin doctoring behind him and

prove himself.



If he is an opportunist, as so many regard him, he will also want to get

out of the presentational game now that the Government’s performance is

falling short of its promises as well as put as much distance between

himself and the Millennium Dome before the year 2000 since, under his

tutelage, it has become a folly of fun.



But there are problems. As a second rank minister, he has not yet run

anything. And he has lots of highly-placed enemies, such as John

Prescott and Gordon Brown who don’t want him in their departments and

would grind him down if he went to the DTI or DSS. So where is Mr Blair

going to put him? The Cabinet Office, in place of David Clark, or Leader

of the Commons (for Ann Taylor) could still leave him with spin and Dome

and Heritage, in place of Chris Smith, still with the Dome

International Development (for Clare Short), wouldn’t be big enough and

would deliver him into the hands of Robin Cook, which would be sadistic

of Mr Blair.



So is Mr Mandelson’s fate to handle BSE at Ag. and Fish, waiting lists

at Health or the not-quite-so-warring tribes of Ulster? How do you

untypecast a spin doctor to give him a chance of a political future?

Over to you Mr Blair. Government is just one hard choice after another.



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