Self serving, egotistical and narcissistic. These epithets accurately describe the personality and motivations of former UK Business Secretary, former Northern Ireland Secretary and former Industry Secretary, Lord Peter Mandelson. Which is why it has been such a relief not to see him on our television screens, these last few weeks. But even now, stretching out from the political grave, Lord Mandelson, leaning on the crutch that is his overblown and ever so slightly hysterical auto biography, ‘The Third Man’ reveals that he wants one day to return to front line politics! To which, I hope that all good people say in unison, “Not over our dead bodies!”
Peter Mandelson rejoices in the breathless prose of all too many commentators who fed from his hand, who laud him as the ‘architect of New Labour’, and that so significant was his role during the Blair/Brown years, he must be counted as one of their equals – hence the title to his book. He is not in the same league as Blair, still less Brown. But if he wants to be remembered as the architect of that weird sect, “New Labour”, a star struck fan club that was run with the same élan as the old East German Communist Party, let him. Even now The Guardian talks of him “saving his beloved Labour Party”. Excuse me from intruding into this love in, but the last times I looked Labour had lost five million voters during Mandelson’s ‘New Labour’ era, the party is shawn of members and it is broke. To cap it all, it has just had its worst General Election result since 1983 – although The Guardian newspaper’s support for Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems at the election can’t have helped. “New Labour”, in case Mandelson and his friends hadn’t noticed, became a term of abuse some time ago.
However, in claiming this dubious honour, Mandelson would also like to be remembered as the architect of Labour’s historical 1997 landslide – a myth recalibrated ad nauseam by his friends in the media. Well, Joes Haines, the former street fighting adjunct to Harold Wilson, and no shrinking violet he, offered up this analysis in a review for Tribune of another recently released book, “The Alastair Campbell Diaries”, which he describes as “an anthology of hate, obsession, spin and rampant ambition”. “We won in 1997”, says Haines not because of their brilliance [Mandelson, Campbell, Blair et al] but because the nation was irretrievably fed up with John Major and he couldn’t have won a raffle in which he bought all the tickets”.
I first met Peter Mandelson in 1993 at a drinks party organised by Gordon Brown in the Commons. Back then, Mandelson was followed around by a gauche young researcher, by the name of Derek Draper. Both Draper and Mandelson seemed very keen to denigrate John Smith, the then Labour leader, which they did in a malevolent, snide fashion – the sort of behaviour that sadly came to epitomise so much of the nastiness of the New Labour years to come. I reached some early conclusions about Peter Mandelson back then, and in the years since he has never failed to disappoint.
Lest we forget, as plain Peter Mandelson, he lasted barely five months as Secretary of State for Industry, having been forced to resign for failing to declare a £373,000 home loan from his pal Geoffrey Robinson MP. Having militated against the much loved Mo Mowlam, he persuaded Blair to let him have her job as Northern Ireland Secretary, this time lasting barely a year, before he was accused in helping arrange a British passport for Indian billionaire, Srichard Hinduja, something for which he was later clearred. Mr Hinduja, it will be recalled had promised a cool £1 million for Mandelson’s beloved ‘Dome’, a ludicrous white elephant that finally did for any notion of ‘Cool Britannia’. Bizarrely, although Mandelson bleats in ‘The Third Man’ that he “fought for ten years to make the relationship of Blair and Brown work in Government”, Gordon Brown rehabilitated the man who had caused him so much grief over the years and made him Business Secretary – presumably on the basis that having him inside the tent would lance some of his legendary poison.
Having attempted to stitch up a deal behind Brown’s back during the General Election that would have seen the Lord Mandelson ‘loyally serve’ Nick Clegg, presumably as a Coalition Foreign Secretary, Lord Mandelson would like us to buy his book – so much so that he and Blair were locked in battle as to whose book should be published first. If we do buy it, we will be subject to chapter after chapter of empty banality and untruth about his relations with Blair and Brown, theirs with him and ad nauseam. Mandelson talks of his ‘intense’ relations with the two men, something that used to have the late Leo Abse speculate that the real story of New Labour was one of unrequited love. But is anyone really interested? Does anyone really care anymore? And why did the Labour Party have to be effectively closed down ostensibly to avoid division – when those at the top were responsible for more divisive activities that a whole row of Derek Hattons?
Now Mandelson tells us magisterially that he will not be endorsing any of the current Labour leadership contestants – because he is a past master at secretly backing one, while pretending to support all of the others. He didn’t publicly back Tony Blair when he stood for the Labour leadership either for exactly the same reasons – instead operating under the pseudonym ‘Bobby’. When, back then we attempted to reveal his role in Tribune, Mo Mowlam called me having been assured by Blair that Mandelson was not involved in the campaign, to threaten legal action if we went ahead and published the story. Why the threatened heavy hand? Because Mandelson was so unpopular amongst Labour MPs, Blair’s leadership hopes would have been doomed if the MPs got to know.
Don’t get me wrong, I can see that Lord Mandelson is as a capable as he is intelligent. Had he not allowed himself to be succoured into the less than less than rarefied World of the nouveau riche, dodgy Russian oligarchs and the superficiality afforded by them, he could have concentrated on being a good Government Minister. Had he been short on spinning and plotting and longer on philosophy and empathy, he could have become a successful and even long serving British Foreign Secretary.
But now it is all over for Peter Mandelson, in British Labour politics at least. Clement Attlee once famously said to the disputations Harold Laski “a period of silence from you would be welcome”, which is more or less what any of the current Labour contenders for the leadership would surely want from Mandelson now.