Mixed reactions to Mandelson’s return

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He has always been a figure of controversy, and today friends and foes of Peter Mandelson have lost no time in sharing their views on his shock return to Cabinet.

Business leaders seemed pleased that after three years in Brussels as EU Commissioner for Trade, the former MP for Hartlepool is to return to frontline UK politics.

John Wright, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, told the BBC:

“Mr Mandelson’s experience will mean that he can do away with the probationary period and get straight into the business of dealing with the current credit crunch.

“We will be seeking an early meeting with him in order to convey some very easy-to-implement measures to safeguard the future of small businesses during these difficult times.”

Novelist and former political journalist Robert Harris said he was surprised by his friend’s third political comeback.

“I never thought for a second he’d return to front-line British politics, but I think these are difficult times and it’s all hands on deck,” he told BBC Radio 4.

“I think what it says to me is that the economic conditions are likely to get extremely tough next year, and that Gordon Brown is willing to reach out to virtually anyone to try and help steer the country through it.”

Not everyone was so positive.

Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague said Gordon Brown’s decision to appoint a man who had to resign twice from Cabinet during Tony Blair’s premiership is “bizarre.”

“In bringing back Peter Mandelson – the man who created Labour spin – he has broken his promise to govern in an honest and open way,” he said.

“With this bizarre reshuffle the Prime Minister has achieved the impossible and made the Government even more dysfunctional.”

Liberal Democrat Danny Alexander told the BBC:

“Resurrecting ex-ministers from the political graveyard is not going to breathe new life into Gordon Brown’s zombie government.”

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It is likely the French will be pleased to see the back of Mr Mandelson.

France took over the rotating EU Presidency in July and the country’s President accused Mr Mandelson of trying to force a deal on EU leaders ahead of World Trade Organisation meetings.

Mr Sarkozy also accused him of contributing to the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by Irish voters.

Mr Mandelson, the only openly gay man to be appointed to the Commission, told the BBC that “I’m not to be bullied” by Mr Sarkozy.

He was one of the few out politicians in Brussels – only two out of 785 MEPs are openly gay.

Mr Mandelson was among Tony Blair’s closest advisers.

He backed Mr Blair over his close friend Mr Brown for the leadership of the Labour party in 1994.

The Prime Minister is said to have nurtured a grudge against Mr Mandelson ever since.

Less than a year after his appointment as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in 1998 he was forced to resign after it emerged he purchased his west London home with an interest-free loan from a fellow Labour MP whose business dealings were under investigation by the department.

Many thought his career was over but just ten months later Tony Blair made him Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr Mandelson was an effective negotiator and his efforts to bring peace to the province were praised on both sides of the political divide.

However, in January 2001 he was implicated in another scandal after it was alleged he intervened to try and get British citizenship for an Indian businessman who was being investigated for corruption.

Mr Mandelson resigned again. He has been the UK’s appointee to the European Commission since November 2004.

In March this year there was widespread speculation that the long-running feud between Mandelson and Brown was at an end and that the Prime Minister was going to offer him another five years in Brussels.

Gordon Brown quashed those rumours when he told reporters that Mr Mandelson would only serve one term.

It is understood they have become close again over the summer and have discussed strategy on the phone on a regular basis.

Mr Mandelson was famously outed on Newsnight in 1998 by gay journalist Matthew Parris.

The press then took to reporting on his personal life with his Brazilian boyfriend, Reinaldo Avila da Silva.

He will take a seat in the House of Lords, the first departmental Cabinet minister to sit in the upper house since Baroness Amos served as Secretary of State for International Development.