We’ve already run some wild speculation on this blog about Mandelson eyeing up David Miliband’s seat in South Shields. But Westminster is a fast moving place and in the last 24 hours the plot has thickened significantly. Forget South Shields — does the First Lord have his eye on a more European career path?
On Friday he’s in Brussels to give a speech packed with advice on what the EU should do next, offering unsolicited advice on a range of issues including the need for “serious new thinking” on how to make Europe relevant in a G2 world of the US and China. “One of Europe’s key deficits is leadership,” he says. “It is personalities and policies that will make the difference.”
Personalities? Big personalities? He must mean Tony Blair. Someone like Mandelson surely wouldn’t dare turn up in Brussels and audition to be the EU’s foreign policy chief, a post that has already been earmarked by some for David Miliband. Would he?
Well, it is odd that his name has not been more in the frame for the job. After all Mandy spent four years in Brussels as the EU’s trade commissioner. He knows foreign policy and he knows the inside of the Berlaymont – the foreign policy chief would also be a vice president of the Commission, one more title to add to the pack. In the not-so-distant past he has spoken to colleagues about how the job might be an attractive one. His ambitions looked likely to be thwarted by his unwillingness to learn French but that seems to be less of a bar to top Brussels jobs these days.
There are a couple other problems. Relations with Jose Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, have not always been smooth. And is the job, which only comes with a modest diplomatic service and a five word title, really big enough for Mandelson’s outsized ambitions?