There can be little doubt that Mandelson must feel very let down by the three former Blairite ministers caught red-handed by the latest lobbying scandal. Looking shattered by the day’s events, Mandelson gave a below par performance on Newsnight, where he debated with a poorly briefed Ken Clarke.
Now let’s go back to last December. Rachel Sylvester has the details of how Mandelson made the decision to cut the budget for higher education:
Backed by Lord Mandelson, the Chancellor has won his battle to stop the Prime Minister contrasting Labour “investment” with Tory “cuts”. For months the two men have been fighting a guerrilla war against Mr Brown’s beloved strategy. Just before Christmas, for example, Lord Mandelson shot off a letter, while on a trip to India, to the chairman of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, informing him of a £398 million reduction in the 2010 budget for universities. The note caused mayhem at No 10, because nobody knew in advance that it was being sent; but by the time Mr Brown realised what was going on, the cut was a fait accompli.
The conclusion has to be that he didn't clear it with Brown because it have would not have been approved. But, was this such a smart tactical move? Brown tends to remember these little incidents and store them away for future use.
Forward the clock to this morning and to a remark that Nick Robinson made on Today:
Nick Robinson began the package by saying that Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon have not been told in person that they are being suspended from the Labour party. A source close to one of them told Robinson their suspension was pure "revenge plus" because of the role they played in trying to undermine Gordon Brown.
Up to a point. If Hoon, Hewitt and Byers have broken Labour party rules, then their suspension is justified. However, Brown will use this lobbying scandal to further isolate the Blairites.
So, we have the Mandelson incident and the isolation of the Blairites. Now, add to this mix the cunning plan that Unite have up their sleeve to deposit a coach load of MPs onto the Labour benches that are not keen to take the New Labour project forward.
Stir all that together and conclusion has to be that it will be easier for Brown to remain as leader after the election, and clear the way for Ed Balls to become the next Labour leader.
On Newsnight, for the first time, there were signs from Mandelson that he could see the New Labour project slipping away.