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Crisis gives UK's Labor chance to shine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The financial crisis battering the world economy presents Britain’s ruling Labor Party with a chance to regain the confidence of a skeptical electorate, said Peter Mandelson, who returned to the British cabinet on Friday.

“We have to have a clear political project that people can understand and identify with,” Mandelson told Reuters in a telephone interview. “The economic circumstances we face, however unwelcome, also give us an opportunity to show what we are made of but also to demonstrate that we have that political project,” he said.

He was speaking shortly after the surprise announcement of his appointment to Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government, which lags a rejuvenated Conservative opposition party in opinion polls.

Brown turned to his former Labor Party rival to take on the job of business minister. Mandelson is expected to play a key role in a newly-created economic council that will oversee the fallout from the credit crunch.

“The British public will judge us by our resolve, the strength of our policies and our collective and personal commitment,” he said.

“If they see that we are giving it all that it takes, I believe that they will judge us favorably. But we can’t take that for granted. It takes working for and that is what we are going to do,” he said, adding the government needed to be “a tough agent of change.”

Mandelson said it was too early to talk about what kind of new measures Britain would take to tackle the financial crisis but said all options should be considered.

“I don’t think we can reject any option out of hand. Nor should we jump to conclusions about what best to do,” he said when asked whether a European version of the U.S. bank rescue plan was needed.

“We must not delay taking decisions but we must also guard against taking the wrong ones.”

“As time goes on, the risk and the problems in the financial system are becoming endemic and that’s why it’s not possible to rule out policy options but nor, as I say, should you jump to conclusions about what to do.”


Mandelson returns to London after nearly four years as the trade chief of the European Union.

In Brussels, he pressed hard for a long-delayed world trade deal to lower barriers to exports around the planet, despite sometimes fierce opposition from some European leaders.

They were suspicious of Mandelson’s liberal economic instincts and who feared a deal could leave European farming and manufacturing exposed to tough competition.

Mandelson said time had now run out for a breakthrough in the World Trade Organization’s Doha negotiations before the U.S. presidential elections next month, after which the talks are likely to be delayed further by the changeover of power.

“I don’t think there will be a major breakthrough before the U.S. elections but that should not stop technical and behind-the-scenes work continuing and that is what I believe the EU will continue to support,” he said.

Mandelson also said his departure from the EU’s executive Commission should not lead to a shift in the bloc’s general support of open markets and liberal economic policy, despite possible attempts for a more protectionist stance.

“The Commission has a settled view about the need to keep the European economy open, trade flowing and I don’t think that position will roll backwards,” he said.

“But inevitably there will be a lot of public debate, a lot of public pressures. We have to respond to peoples’ concerns in order to bring them with us.”

Editing by David Clarke in London