THE Prince of Darkness enjoyed a rare break in the clouds over Hartlepool yesterday as he made a victorious tour of his adopted homeland in an open-top jeep.

Re-elected Hartlepool MP Peter Mandelson was celebrating his stunning victory at the polls, having equalled his achievement during the 1997 election landslide.

Looking jubilant, despite having been at the election count until the early hours and then moving on to the Labour campaign party in the town, Mr Mandelson waved to his supporters yesterday afternoon.

Despite the US-style victory parade, it was business as usual first thing in the morning when Mr Mandelson took on his first constituency job of the new term.

He held a meeting with members of the Trincomalee Trust, who are lobbying Parliament to secure funding to finish the restoration of the historic ship, which has pride of place in Hartlepool's marina.

Following his visit to the site of the renovation work, Mr Mandelson took his own part in history by meeting the people who had helped return Labour to its second full term in office for the first time ever.

Party worker Patrick Diamond reflected yesterday on the victory which saw Mr Mandelson gain 59.1 per cent of the total vote, compared to 60.7 per cent in 1997.

He said: "To receive the same percentage as in the 1997 campaign is a particularly amazing achievement, especially in the context of the battle.

"We were confident that we ran a good campaign with a good campaigner, but we were never sure exactly what the extent of the support would be.

"But to return with 59.1 per cent of the total vote and a majority of 14,571 is a comprehensive victory."

Throughout the campaign, Mr Mandelson had stressed that if re-elected he did not want to return to the cabinet for a third time.

His dedicated local supporters had cheered him into the count room when he arrived in the early hours of yesterday morning, hours after the other candidates had made an appearance.

To emphasis his new dedication to local people and issues, Mr Mandelson spent yesterday meeting those who had helped resurrect his political career after the cash for passports scandal.

Having travelled around the town to show his face to all the voters, Mr Mandelson went deep into the constituency, to some of Hartlepool's estates, to thank his diehard fans who helped campaign for his re-election.

Mr Diamond said: "He wanted to go into those areas of the town where people had always supported him to meet them and thank them for voting for him."