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Once a prince of darkness, now loving the limelight

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BRITAIN-ELECTION/“Enjoy it!” That was the message from Peter Mandelson to Labour supporters this morning as he launched a vitriolic attack on the Conservatives during a speech in central London, clearly relishing every minute of it. Once nicknamed the “prince of darkness” for his ability to mastermind Labour’s strategy from behind the scenes, Mandelson has transformed into the party’s best public performer.

It was different in the days of Tony Blair, who could go out and dazzle the voters with his easy charm and passionate oratory, leaving Mandelson to the backroom strategic thinking that helped sweep New Labour into power in 1997 and keep them there for 13 years. Now fronted by Gordon Brown, whose strength lies more in his grasp of policy detail than in his presentational skills, and trailing the Conservatives in the polls a month before an election, Labour need all the charisma they can get. Mandelson has stepped up to deliver it, with evident jubilation.

Denouncing the Conservatives as “parish pump politicians for a global age”, Mandelson insisted that David Cameron and George Osborne had not really modernised their party but rather were still guided by a Thatcherite instinct to cut taxes, cut public spending, keep the state out of the economy as much as possible and hope for the best.

“How limp!” he cried, waving his arms in mock amazement. “How pathetic! How unimaginative! How unsmart!” This was a “dumbing down, bargain-basement approach to competitiveness”, he said, asserting that Conservative views on the role of the state in economic management “belonged in the Ark, aeons ago”.

What if it’s not the economy, stupid?

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Gordon Brown is counting on a swift economic turnaround. It’s probably his Labour Party’s only hope of avoiding a humiliating electoral defeat to the Conservatives next year.

The latest news on the economy has certainly got people in Downing Street smiling. The housing market is stabilising and some commentators are even talking about Britain becoming the first major country to pull out of the recession.

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