I felt hugely cheered when I heard Peter Mandelson had come back to the government. I became a fan of his when as EU Trade Commissioner, he took on the French in defending free-trade (a core Labour policy since we ran on a free-trade ticket in 1923) and asking the French to to support the abolition of CAP, which prompted that fool Sarkozy to attack him.
I think he's been one of the best UK commissioners we've ever had, and now that the Doha negotiations are dead (killed off by the Americans trying to get the Indians and Chinese to open their markets to US agriculture, and India and China balking), he is best deployed at home, where his vast experience of how international trade works can help the UK weather this crisis. Any changes to financial regulation in the EU will be negotiated by the Council of Ministers, the decision-making body of the EU, and having Mandelson as a partisan within the UK government, as opposed to a neutral Commissioner observing the proceedings, will help enormously. I was disappointed that most of the television networks yesterday only focussed on his UK government experience, and said practically nothing of his European experience.
Of course the return of Mandelson is also political. Mandelson, Blair and Brown were the founders of New Labour, and were later joined by Alastair Campbell. As John Kampfner pointed out, the New Labour tribe is re-grouping again. The only one missing is Blair, and I keep expecting him to start doing election rallies in Bill Clinton style.
People like Matthew Parris in the Times write hopefully that the re-grouping will result in disaster and predict feuds to break out. They misunderstand the nature of founders of New Labour. They were a band of brothers. They may have squabbled among themselves from time to time, but always closed ranks against the common enemy. If you read Alastair Campbell's diaries, you understand how hard they all worked to put Labour into power. They are not about to let it all go now.
Mandelson also helps in that he is a big beast. In 2007, Gordon Brown gave the next generation their chance to strut their stuff by promoting them to the cabinet, but for the most part they've been disappointingly timid. Mandelson with his intellect and confidence lends enormous ballast to the team. Labour won in 1997 by a massive team effort. In recent months people have forgotten this and tried to claim that the job of winning was solely down to the leader while everyone else sat on their hands. That will change as teamwork starts kicking in again.
I must say a word about Margaret Beckett. She's the great survivor of the Labour party, with experience dating back to the 70's. She has seen and experienced it all. She was first elected in 1974, and served in both Harold Wilson's government and Callaghan's. She was then defeated in 1979, in the electoral tsunami that brought in Thatcher (something few current MPs have experience of). But she dusted herself off and got re-elected again in 1983, and supported Kinnock in his battle against Benn. She was elected Deputy Leader of the Labour party in 1992, she served briefly as leader when Smith died and stood against Blair for the leadership in 1994. When Labour came to power in 1997, she served in the Labour government being moved sideways, down, up, you name it and became the first woman Foreign Secretary. And now she's back as Minister for Housing.
The thing about Margaret Beckett is that she has no ego - her aim is simply to serve the Labour government and Labour party, she's not worried about status. Other prima donnas who flounce out of government because they arn't promoted or given the job they want, should take lessons from her. She's achieved a state of grace by being so calm in the face of over three decades of political turbulence.