Mandelson attacks ‘old-style operators’ undermining Blair

Peter Mandelson has launched a thinly-veiled attack on Gordon Brown’s leadership ambitions, on the eve of the most important speech of the chancellor’s career.

The former cabinet minister and architect of New Labour warned against “old-style operators” in “smoke-fuelled rooms” who were trying to undo all the achievements of Tony Blair’s nine years in office.

Mr Mandelson’s comments come the night before Mr Brown is due to address the Labour party conference in Manchester, in what one aide has described as the “speech of his life”.

Although still the frontrunner to succeed Mr Blair, the chancellor will have to answer allegations that he forced the prime minister’s hand in announcing he would quit within a year, and persuade delegates he has the charisma and ideas to lead the party.

Speaking to a fringe meeting in Manchester this evening, Mr Mandelson noted that senior government ministers had imposed a “self-denying ordnance” this week by agreeing not to talk about the future Labour leadership contest.

But Mr Mandelson noted that he was not included in this, and launched into a strong attack on old Labour, the trade unions and, without naming him, Mr Brown.

“I’m all for a stable and orderly transition, but what we have seen since election night 2005 frankly has been anything but a stable and orderly transition,” he said.

“I believe that we should recognise Tony Blair’s exceptional talents and achievements and what he has done for our party. He has a lot more to offer.

“But when he finally calls time let it be his decision, his timing and his judgment. It is not the decision of old-style operators in the party who thrive in smoke-fuelled rooms and are best left there.”

Mr Mandelson, who is now the EU commissioner for trade, also attacked the trade unions for thinking they might seize the opportunity of a Labour leadership election to urge a return to old Labour.

“We need and welcome the full involvement of the trade unions in our party. They are the ballast of our party,” he told the meeting organised by New Labour think tank Progress.

“But now today some of the general secretaries and presidents will see the coming change of leader as an opportunity to reclaim their former role and power. They feel they have been shut out of the party.

“But that was their choice to reject New Labour. Now they think the time has come to go back, but the party has changed.we are not going to go back.”

Also speaking was former health minister Alan Milburn, who issued a similar warning to those wishing to use the leadership election to reverse Mr Blair’s reforms.

“It is not New Labour we need to abandon but it’s New Labour we need to entrench. It’s New Labour that holds the key to our electability,” he warned.

International development secretary Hilary Benn, housing minister Yvette Cooper and environment secretary David Miliband also spoke up for the need for more New Labour reforms, not less.

Mr Miliband told the meeting: “The next election will be about change or about more of the same, and that is a good thing because we will be the ones calling for change.

“David Cameron says he is comfortable with modern Britain, which means he thinks its fine. But we do not think its fine. We want more and more change.”