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Peter Mandelson was omnipresent at the Labour conference

Your dose of gossip from around Westminster and the Liverpool Convention Centre.

By Kevin Maguire

Ubiquitous Peter Mandelson was the Zelig of Labour’s Liverpool shindig. Popping up here, there, everywhere, the one-time Prince of Darkness still craves the limelight. Mandelson brazenly plopped himself in shadow cabinet seats for Rachel Reeves’ “iron chancellor” speech – and in front of the TV cameras. The peer was peerless in his networking, one prominent front-liner remarking he was offered a vacant ten-minute slot in Mandelson’s otherwise packed diary to pay homage. Mandelson attracted Labour A-listers to his Global Counsel reception in the appropriately named Alchemist restaurant. Labour is in Mandelson’s DNA, but a shadow minister whispered archly that he’s also ensuring Britain is safe for international clients.

[See also: The Conservative conference can’t take its eyes off Farage]

Puppet-master Dominic Cummings is once again attempting to pull strings in Downing Street. Boris Johnson’s Rasputin is, I’m reliably informed, in touch with Rishi Sunak’s chief of staff, Liam Booth-Smith. When No 10 ran so smoothly last time who could ignore Dangerous Dom’s sage advice? His back-seat driving could add another Barnard Castle car crash to Sunak’s HS2 train smash.

Desperate to upstage Keir Starmer, Sunak didn’t find the docile audience he wanted in staff at the Currys repair centre in Nottinghamshire. One reason could be that when the boss informed the workforce they were to receive a VIP visit, the rumour mill led many to expect King Charlie or Wills and Kate. An unpopular PM didn’t fit the bill.

Crustaceans of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your shells. Corporate Britain beat a path to Liverpool to meet the party’s shadow business secretary, Jonathan Reynolds – who seems to have met most of the FTSE 250 honchos. My snout sniffed:“The prawn-cocktail offensive was in the past. It’s definitely more pastry-based engagement these days.” That’s how the cookie crumbles?

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Cheeky chap, Michael Dugher. Word reaches me that at a dinner with hungry Tories the former Gordon Brown aide and Labour MP, now championing the gambling industry, thanked Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer for putting a £100 bet on the Conservatives winning the next election. Dugher quipped he didn’t know whether 100 was the stake or the odds, then joked she should have backed them each way. Tories fearing how this race will end were too scared to laugh.

The London local-government legend Sally Powell was stuck on the wrong side of the fence, after barking loudly that stewards wouldn’t let her into Labour conference without a doctor’s note for her little support dog. Powell’s GP couldn’t produce a letter for 28 days. Even Starmer’s speeches aren’t that long.

[See also: Ministers are on resignation watch as Rishi goes rogue]

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This article appears in the 11 Oct 2023 issue of the New Statesman, War Without Limits