14 May 2006
Battle lines drawn in Labour's civil war
It now looks as if the Nu-Labour Party is gearing up for a bloody Civil War. Peter Mandelson, the former cabinet minister, who was appointed by Tony Blair to a cushy £150,000 sinecure by Tony Blair in 2004, has become the chief strategist for a group of Blair's ultra loyalists. It is being mooted that John Reid will mount a challenge to Gordon Brown when Blair finally decides to call it a day. However, the presence of Mandelson in the lineup might suggest that Blair actually fancies retreating to a bunker and daring his challengers to come and get him.
It could be that the Blair strategy is to actually force a civil war in the hope that it will destroy the party. Thus Blair would be in a position to offer his support to a new left-Tory, Liberal Democrat and Blairite residuum alliance. His aim would probably not be to act as David Lloyd-George did at the end of the Great War - it's doubful if he would want to head a largely Tory administration - rather it would be to get rid of both the traditional right on the Tory backbenches as well as the old left from the Labour Party.
If this is the aim then Mandelson is just the right creature to bring it about. He is loathed by Brown because 12 years ago Mandelson first offered his support to Brown in that leadership contest, only to desert him in favour of Blair.
The Blairites were trying to temp Brown with the offer off a 12-month programme, followed by a handover, but that sort of deal was cut in 2003 and Blair then renaged on it. Brown is unlikely to be suckered twice, and the entry of Mandelson into the ring suggests that Blair knows this.
The next move is Gordon Brown's. If he does not fight, then the leadership could pass to a Blairite. If he does move now, Blair will probably try to destroy the party as he leaves it.