Mandelson’s marginalisation is understandable. He has been the government’s fire-fighter, deployed to defend the indefensible and bamboozle voters with a fantasia of figures and the demeanour of the Widow Twankee. As the narrative of recession cedes to that of recovery and the election nears, Labour requires a different style of communicator. Labour considers Harman to be that person, and hope that she will connect with women and middle England. Also, the days when peers fronted general election campaigns passed into history with Lord Salisbury; even Mandelson cannot conjure their resurrection. The heart of the matter is that, after a successful autumn, Brown feels strong enough to ditch his Wolsey.
Labour is making a catastrophic mistake in removing Mandelson from the frontline, especially with Harman as his replacement. Her equality agenda is fashionable in the maisonettes of Islington (the chichi equivalent of the playing fields of Eton), but enthusiasm for Harman diminshes incrementally with each step away from Granita. I disagree with every syllable he utters, but the imperious performer Mandelson wipes the floor with Harman, as he does with everyone else in his party. Elections are won by coherent presentation as much as by coherent policy; and the Brown premiership pre-Mandelson was about as intelligible as Paul Gascoigne. Brown will discover that he cannot do without his more talented right-hand man, not least because Mandelson is perfectly capable of wielding the knife.