My friend James Forsyth asks a daring question: "Will Peter Mandelson end up a National Treasure?" A crazy notion, you may feel, but not an impossible one!
Now, of course, in many respects Mandeslon is a dreadful character, but whereas, say, Alastair Campbell is a mere thuggish bully, Mandelson is a subtler operator who enlivens, rather than demeans, the political game. I suspect the lobby is delighted that he's back. Who could fail to be amused by the manner in which he smoked George Osbourne this summer, as though the Shadow Chancellor was but a kipper? This was Mandelson as his slimy, effortlessly loathsome best. There was something brilliant in his audacity and his continuining ability to argue that black is white and vice versa. The man is a player (and a hater, of course) and one often has the sense, ruthless though he is when it comes to advancing the government's perceived interests, that there's also an element of devilry in his approach to politics: the game is the game. It never changes and should be enjoyed for what it is, no more no less.
In that sense, Mandelson operates on the same playing field as the media: policy is often important only in as much as it advances factional interests (that is to say, to hell with the country). What matters is who has the upper hand. It's the Oneupmanship school of politics and this, of course, is catnip to the Westminster classes. As such, his return from the Brussels Wilderness is A Good Thing, enlivening life at Westminster no end. Though one may despise Mandelson, it's also possible to hold a quiet admiration for the Hartlepool Machiavelli. He's a worthy opponent who, one also likes to think, has a rather keener sense of irony than any of the other founders of New Labour. Factor in his own misjudgements that have, deservedly or not, cost him much and you have a compelling picture: the flawed, meandacious, ruthless, political genius... A recipe ripe for rehabilitation, for sure...
One other thing: Mandelson was, I think, a pretty good Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Certainly, he was a great improvement upon his predecessor, the execrable Mo Mowlam.