Labour strategist Mandelson makes stunning return to cabinet (Second lead)

October 3rd, 2008 - 8:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Gordon BrownLondon, Oct 3 (IANS) In his first cabinet reshuffle, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown Friday asked European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson - a high-profile political strategist - to join his government in the key position of Business Secretary.The move marks a stunning return to politics by Mandelson, and is an affirmation of Brown’s confidence in his business acumen in the midst of a global financial crisis.

“There is no politician who knows more about business,” said Robert Harris, a senior British journalist and close friend of Mandelson.

“To me, it shows that the economic conditions will get worse next year. It is a serious move that confirms that these are serious times we are living in,” he added.

In another surprise move in Friday’s reshuffle, Brown recalled former British foreign secretary Margaret Becket - the first woman in that post - into the cabinet.

Brown was also expected to announce several heavyweight “big business ambassadors” for his government, including Vodafone Chairman Sir John Bond - a step that underscores the British leader’s pro-market credentials.

Mandelson, having given up his parliamentary seat in 2004 in order to take up the post of European Trade Commissioner, would have to be given a peerage and a seat in the House of Lords - the upper chamber of parliament - if he returns to the government.

Brown’s move to bring Mandelson back to London from his high-profile international job in Brussels follows a lacklustre performance by the Labour government over the past year, marked by a series of byelection defeats and opinion poll reversals.

Mandelson was among the chief architects of Labour’s 1997 general election win that overturned 18 years of Conservative Party rule in Britain and helped rebrand an ossified left-wing party as the market-friendly New Labour.

This is his second return to the government.

Mandelson, who was a strong supporter of former prime minister Tony Blair, first resigned from government in December 1998 when it was revealed that he had bought a London home in 1996 with the help of an interest-free loan from Geoffrey Robinson, a millionaire Labour supporter.

Robinson, who went on to become a minister under Blair, was the subject of a government inquiry but Mandelson failed to inform the public about the loan as he should have under British parliamentary traditions.

Brought back in 1999 as the Northern Ireland Secretary, Mandelson resigned again in 2001 after allegations that he pulled strings to help Indian billionaire Srichand Hinduja gain British citizenship.

Mandelson strongly denied any impropriety and an independent enquiry later concluded neither Mandelson nor anyone else had acted improperly.

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