LONDON – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown reached into the past in a bid to save his future Friday, recruiting stars from the Tony Blair era into his Cabinet.
In the biggest surprise, former minister Peter Mandelson was returning to the Cabinet as business secretary, Brown's official spokesman said. Mandelson is one of the prime architects of the "New Labour" approach that had brought Blair to power as prime minister more than a decade ago.
In other major changes, John Hutton replaces Des Browne as defense secretary, and two high-profile ministers of the Blair era get new roles — Geoff Hoon as transport secretary and Margaret Beckett as minister for housing.
Ed Miliband, brother of Foreign Secretary David Miliband, enters the Cabinet as head of a new department for energy and climate change.
Spokesman Michael Ellam said the changes are intended to "strengthen the capacity of the government to deal with the global economic challenges we are currently facing."
Brown also announced he was setting up a National Economic Council to help Britain through the financial crisis by co-ordinating the government's economic policies. Chaired by the prime minister, it includes Vodafone chairman John Bond, Lloyds TSB chairman Victor Blank and former BP head John Browne.
The prime minister also appointed Paul Myners to the new role of minister for London's financial district.
Many were surprised by the decision to bring back the twice-disgraced, twice-rehabilitated Mandelson, a key Blair ally long seen as an adversary of Brown. It was a spectacular reversal for Brown, who seemed to want a total break with Blair's team when he moved into 10 Downing St. last year.
Mandelson acknowledged that he and Brown "have had our ups and downs."
"Third time lucky," Mandelson told reporters with a grin as he arrived at Brown's Downing Street office.
Brown, facing a severe economic downturn and a steep drop in popularity, needs a touch of Blair magic now.
"Bringing back Mandelson is bringing back Mr. Super Spin," said Rodney Barker, a professor of government at the London School of Economics. "He has clear skills. It's about giving the impression there is a message and direction and control."
Mandelson does not hold a seat in Britain's House of Commons, so will be appointed to the House of Lords by Brown, allowing him to join the government without winning a place in Parliament at an election.
Mandelson has spent the last four years in Brussels as a European Commissioner. Ellam said Baroness Catherine Ashton would replace Mandelson in Brussels.
Mandelson, an ex-Northern Ireland secretary and trade secretary, backed Blair over Brown when the two men pondered running for the leadership of their Labour Party in 1994. Brown, who chose not to compete against Blair and later waited 10 years to replace him as British leader, has had a testy relationship with Mandelson.
Blair's former press secretary, Alistair Campbell, wrote in memoirs published last year that "Gordon and Peter really do hate each other."
John McDonnell, a rank and file Labour Party lawmaker, said he was shocked by Mandelson's return.
"This is an extraordinary step backwards into the worst elements of the Blair era, to reinstate possibly the most divisive figure in Labour's recent history," McDonnell said.
Former management consultant Liam Byrne, 38, takes on a job in charge of Britain's Cabinet Office, which handles policy implementation and crisis management.
Several senior ministers, including Treasury chief Alistair Darling, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Justice Secretary Jack Straw, keep their jobs.
Brown had to make changes after legislator Ruth Kelly said she wanted to quit her transport brief to spend more time with her young family and Trade Minister Lord Digby Jones said he wanted to step down.