If there was a politician less suited to the level of personal public thrift required of ministers during a recession it is Peter Mandelson. Oozing the bonhomie of fine wines and expensive cuisine, preening with self-love and self-importance, a man who adores all the trappings of wealth and the proximity of the wealthy, his lifestyle has largely been hidden from sight in Brussels. A cabinet minister's salary will be something of a come-down from the opulent rewards of an EU Commissioner, but Mandelson will not allow this to deter him. The fine cashmere sweaters and calfskin loafers will be at home in le Manoir or Le Pont de la Tour, but Brown must be chuckling with pleasure at the prospect of ordering Mandy to go 'on the knock' on the council estates of Glenrothes. For I am convinced that Brown has brought Mandelson back for one reason only - to destroy him.
In Brown's eye, Mandelson is the man who has ruined Gordon's 'turn'. Mandelson is the man who has consigned his reputation to the dustbin of history as Britain's worst prime minister ever. Mandelson is the man who has robbed him of his due. Brown cannot forget or forgive a man he sees as having sown the seeds of Brown's destruction. Mandelson is doubtless aware of this - his intellect is of a greater order than Gordon's - but his vanity is such that he is confident of winning this deadly game. Whilst Mandelson may be well equipped to counter Gordon's moves as they circle warily on the chess-board, he is not immune to his own ego. Hubris and the fourth estate will do for him.
Already the press is questioning the origin of funds used to buy his new home in London. Teams will be dispatched to Brussels to spread wads of cash and dig for dirt. Brown himself will release some fatal secret when the time is just right, when the public mood demands real retribution. Like Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer, public joy at the humbling of one so high as they swap the cashmere for prison denim will be irresistible.
Rarely have I looked forward to the dying days of a spent and corrupt government with such pleasure.