Forgive this obscure Kremlinology, but following the news, broken here, that Gordon Brown privately agreed to “back” Peter Mandelson if the latter decided he definitely wanted the EU high representative for foreign affairs job, and that Brown then presented to the European socialist group a menu of candidates that included Mandelson and Cathy Ashton — who got the job — I can now reveal whom the third figure pushed by the PM was.
It was not, contrary to assumptions, David Miliband.
Step forward, that somewhat unlikely permanent fixture of New Labour . . . Geoff Hoon. Apparently, Brown expected the group to back him, and according to a very well-placed source “was gobsmacked when the socialist leaders, and then socialist MEPs, unanimously went for Ashton. He then had no alternative but to back her himself.”
Hoon is nothing if not one of this government’s great survivors, having served as a senior cabinet minister for most of Tony Blair’s premiership before being pushed out by Brown. Why?
Probably because he is a lawyerly and highly safe communicator. It is darkly rumoured however, that — amid the fallout of the Hutton inquiry into Dr David Kelly’s death, which implicated the MoD — the then defence secretary was involved in a private agreement with the higher echelons of the Labour leadership that he would take the “hit” for Hutton but stay on in prominent roles.
This is almost certainly conspiratorial nonsense, but that Hoon was apparently Brown’s first choice for the EU high representative job is intriguing nonetheless.