Even Peter Mandelson has described it as "a comeback too many". But the odds on the twice-disgraced business secretary becoming the next leader of the Labour party are shortening by the week. At Christmas, you could put a tenner down at 200/1, says Mike Smithson on Politicalbetting.com. Today, Paddy Power is offering odds of 16/1. So just how good are his chances?
Quite good, according to some. By changing the rules, so that life peers can quit the upper house and run for parliament, Jack Straw has already "decided to let the leopard out of its cage", argues William Rees Mogg in The Times. But "the leopard has not changed its spots; if released, it will seek its prey, which is power". And Mandelson already wields quite a lot of it.
Mandelson is clearly the "real PM", claimed Tory party chairman Eric Pickles last week. He exerts unprecedented power across the government sitting on 35 of the 43 Cabinet committees that set policy on everything from swine flu to Afghanistan. "It is quite obvious that Peter Mandelson is the real unelected prime minister, pulling the strings from Number 10".
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Indeed, after rescuing Gordon Brown from baying backbenchers last month, "he is now the real driving force in the Labour government. He is the master, Brown the squawking, battered puppet", says Leo McKinstry in the Daily Express.
Mandelson has brushed aside any suggestion that he might become prime minister. But he has not fully discounted it. And neither has the Labour Party. "Mandelson is the only one with clout, intellect and charisma in the Labour ranks who could realistically take on the Tories and win at a general election", says Dr Peter Slowe, Labour's top business adviser. So any punt when the odds were 200/1 is now looking good, "You never know that could still be a winner", says Smithson.
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