Reports of Peter Mandelson-Gordon Brown rift take shine off poll boost

THE Labour Party's recent improvement in the polls – closing the gap with David Cameron's Tories – has received a setback, just as Downing Street last night played down reports of a rift between Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Business Secretary Lord Mandelson.

The reported rift also added to uncertainty surrounding the Labour leadership ahead of next year's general election.

Lord Mandelson – brought back into the Cabinet last year after settling a 14-year feud with Mr Brown – was reported to be disillusioned with party tactics in the recent Pre-Budget Report and was said to be

"disenchanted" with Mr Brown's stewardship of the party.

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Friends of the business secretary indicated he was unhappy that the PBR had not been more explicit in outlining how the UK's vast budget deficit could be reduced, and had been frustrated at the refusal of the Prime Minister to drop his "Labour investment versus Tory cuts" dividing line for the election.

Sources also indicated he was angry at the government's "banker-bashing" tone of recent weeks.

A separate report claimed Lord Mandelson was unhappy that he had not been able to wield the influence he was promised on his return to Cabinet. He was also said to have been shut out of plans to make the Royal Mail's postcode database freely available to the public, despite being the minister responsible, and heavily involved in plans to modernise the agency.

Both Mr Brown and Lord Mandelson sought to play down the speculation last night, issuing denials of a rift.

A spokesman for Mr Brown said there was "absolutely no truth in the rumour", while Lord Mandelson's spokesman said: "This is complete tosh. It is either made up or put about by someone who is doing neither Gordon nor Peter any favours."

Lord Mandelson was thought to be unhappy at the PM's unwillingness to put him forward for a leading role in the new EU governing structure, and was conspicuous by his absence in the wake of the PBR delivered by Chancellor Alistair Darling earlier this month.