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The Conservatives will seek to prevent any attempt to allow Lord Mandelson to return to the Commons

Picture 8 Not so long ago the idea of Peter Mandelson leaving his post as European Commissioner in Brussels to be made a peer by his old foe Gordon Brown and appointed to the Cabinet for a third time would have seemed fanciful - and yet it came to pass.

So just how likely a scenario is it that the Secretary of State for Business etc etc will seek to quit the Lords, return to the Commons and even make a bid for the Labour leadership?

The key to any of that happening would be the passing of an amendment to the constitutional renewal bill which would allow a life peer to leave the House of Lords and stand for election to the lower House.

And the Tory leader in the Upper House, Lord Strathclyde, has today indicated to the Financial Times that Conservatives would seek to scupper any such move:

Lord Strathclyde, Tory leader in the Lords, said he would try to ensure that the first secretary remains “trapped” – Lord ­Mandelson’s description – on the red benches. He said the retirement clause would allow people to take a peerage as a life peer, take the title and then to walk away if they decided they no longer wanted to fulfil their duties. “We will definitely oppose it.”

He said that life peers who can no longer attend the Lords can take a “leave of absence”, although only a small number make use of the provision. “There’s a scheme and it works well. If there was a demand for it, why don’t more people use it?”

Although Lord Strathclyde may not be able to stop the bill coming into force before the election, he could delay its ­passage – possibly until after Christmas. The timing of the bill’s enactment could be crucial. An autumn coup against Mr Brown, although widely seen as unlikely, could cast Lord Mandelson as an unwilling executioner. But a leadership contest after a general election defeat might allow enough time for the bill to come into force and for the first secretary to be reincarnated as the MP for a safe seat.

Whilst I find this all very unlikely, the FT points out that Mandy has "repeatedly refused to deny that he might use the new legal provision to escape the upper house".

But would there in any case be such a thing as a "safe seat" for Peter Mandelson? The election anoraks amongst us will recall what happened to newly-appointed Foreign Secretary Patrick Gordon Walker at the 1965 Leyton by-election...

Jonathan Isaby

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