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He's not crony Blair: Old pals' act; Mandy defends his new Euro job.

Byline: LINDSAY McGARVIE

PETER Mandelson furiously denied getting his plum EU job because he's the Prime Minister's pal. The former Northern Ireland and DTI minister insisted the Premier doesn't reward people because they are 'friends or cronies' but gives jobs 'on merit'.

But critics, including many senior Labour figures, say voters will be hugely unhappy at Mandelson's new role as Britain's European Commissioner.

Mandelson said: 'I know Tony Blair well enough to know that if he did not think I was the right person for the job, wild horses would not drag him into making that decision.

'He does not reward people because they are friends or cronies or right-wing or left-wing.

'He gives people jobs on merit. He has placed a lot of faith in me and I cannot let him down.'

Comeback Yesterday, Mandelson was preoccupied with the mental state of his cross breed terrier Jack, after a session with the paparazzi.

Britain's new pounds 145,000-ayear EU Commissioner said: 'Jack is recovering from being photographed.

'He was so upset, he didn't do his normal weewee and now we have to decide whether goes to Brussels.

'Do not mock. It is a big discussion and it's taking a lot of time.'

Mandelson's remarkable comeback comes despite two cabinet resignations.

In December 1998 he stood down from the DTI over a pounds 373,000 home loan from Paymaster General Geoffrey Robinson.

He quit a second time in 2001, from the top Northern Ireland job, after being accused of helping one of the Hinduja brothers get a passport in return for a pounds 1million donation to the Millennium Dome.

One of his critics,Glasgow Pollok MP Ian Davidson, said: 'This will be seen as arrogance by New Labour, bringing in a crony of the Prime Minister who is deeply unpopular in the Labour Party.'

Meanwhile,Tony Blair was in Warwick appealing to Labour left-wingers to avoid in-fighting that could rob him of a historic third General Election win.

He acknowledged unease among traditionalists over his transformation of the party into New Labour.

In a speech to the National Policy Forum, he said Labour had been transformed into a party which fostered dialogue rather than confrontation.

And he insisted that modernisation need not be at odds with tradition - Labour retains its original ideology but applies it to modern settings.

He made the speech against the backdrop of a poll which found 66 per cent of voters believe Labour has not lived up to its promises, with 61 per cent saying they didn't trust Blair.

The UK Independence Party's Robert Kilroy Silk hinted yesterday he would stand against the Labour candidate in the Hartlepool by-election caused by Mandelson's new job.

CAPTION(S):

A wee problem: Mandy and Jack; Leap of faith: Mandy says Tony chose him on merit
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 25, 2004
Words:466
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