Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "Modernisers warn Labour 'we could lose' "

Twice-disgraced ex-minister Peter Mandelson was on fine form in Blackpool. He even smiled at me. Mandy would have been happy that his loyal band of Westminster hacks could still be relied upon to write what he wants. The Guardian's Patrick Wintour was one of a few journalists who knew about Mandelson's loan from Geoffrey Robinson, but kept it confidential. Another was his bride-to-be, Rachel Sylvester of the Telegraph. Now, Wintour was at it again.

We were told about seminars by a great new think-tank, chaired by none other than Mandelson. The essence of the piece was that unless Labour carried on being even more right-wing, it would lose the next election. One of those at the seminars was Alan Milburn. This is how he was described: "a self-confessed 'transformer', [he] has become one of the most impatient figures in the cabinet, arguing that the government has a once in a century chance to refashion the public services".

So now we know. Alan Milburn is the official Mandelson candidate to take on Gordon Brown when Tony decides to call it a day. The blundering Blunkett has officially been ditched in favour of the Health Secretary. Milburn has changed a lot since when he ran a left-wing bookshop called Days of Hope (everybody knew it as "haze of dope"). The problem is that he can't stand any opposition. He is, however, bright enough to know that Mandelson's backing is the kiss of death, so watch out for stories distancing him from the Prince of Darkness.

The problem with all this succession talk is that Blair shows no sign of sticking to his deal with the Chancellor, and looks like staying on for ever.

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