Lord Mandelson, in the Image of Roman Orator and Philosopher

Article excerpt

Byline: Joe Murphy Political Editor

HE was the master of intrigue, archmanipulator of the mob and unpredictable dealmaker with the powerful.

So it should be no surprise that a new novel about Roman writer, lawyer and philosopher Cicero contains an admiring tribute to one of today's most compelling politicians, Peter Mandelson.

The Evening Standard has learned that best-selling author Robert Harris has dedicated the second volume of his trilogy about the career of Cicero to none other than the First Secretary.

Harris -- who said he only decided on the dedication last week -- is an old friend of Lord Mandelson, who is godfather to one of the writer's three children. He is also fascinated by Cicero, the greatest orator of his day and a shining idealist, except when circumstances required a cynical tack or two.

Those seeking parallels between the pair will not search in vain. Cicero was an outsider who took on the aristocracy while coveting their status and power. Like Lord Mandelson, returned from the backwaters of Brussels, he endured a spell in foreign exile before amassing even greater influence.

Lord Mandelson must hope, however, that his political retirement is less grisly than the murder of Cicero, whose severed head and hands were pinned up in the forum on the orders of Mark Antony as a warning to other upstarts.

"It is true that in some ways they are similar," said Harris. "But there's nothing to read into it. I thought it would be nice to dedicate a book to Peter, who has been a friend for 25 years.

"He was delighted when I told him. He very much liked the first volume."

A former political editor of the Observer, Harris observed the rise of Lord Mandelson, Tony Blair and New Labour before embarking on his career as a novelist.

"I probably learned more about politics from Peter than anyone else," he said. "Politics 2,000 years ago bears striking similarities to today and this is a book about the practice of politics by a professional, which is timeless. …