Saturday, 31 July 2010

the third man

This is what I thought of Peter Mandelson's book:  My remarks assume a lot of knowledge of, and interest in, the Labour Party and especially New Labour post 1994.  So if that doesn't interest you, er, don't read it.

he defines, in the intro, what New Labour really is/was, as perhaps he should, as he, rather than Tony, is perhaps the defining figure of New Labour - he says "they [Tony and Gordon] were attuned to voters' feelings rather than simply to what our activist base wanted to hear" (p. xviii).  And that is what New Labour is for me.  And that, comrades, is why I am a Blairite.  But this book is not really about New Labour.  Or about Tony.  Or about Gordon.  It is about Peter Mandelson.  And at the same time it manages to tell the reader very little about Peter Mandelson, though it tells you a lot about things he did, places he was at important times, enough so that this book could almost be called "It's All About Me!". But we still don't know him at the end of the book.  He is as cold as ice.  He claims to love the party, but he has no care for those who gave their lives to it.  Very early (p. 18) he refers to "the ill-health and subsequent resignation of the
Labour MP for Glasgow East, David Marshall".  The resignation certainly happened (as did the subsequent SNP victory in the by-election), and the ill-health may well have done too - it was rumoured, and possibly spun by Mandy himself,  that David Marshall was suffering from crippling depression.  It might even have been true.  But Peter, I knew David Marshall, I worked with David Marshall, and Peter, you're no David Marshall.  David Marshall was thrown to the wolves, as were so many others.  Cannon fodder.

We get flashes of Mandy's rightness early on too, when he quotes George Osborne (p. 29) approvingly as saying of Tory association members "They're not interested in ideology.  They're interested in a Conservative Party that wins".   Remember that and you won't go far wrong my boy - it is where too many constituency Labour Parties have gone wrong over the years, portraying, and perhaps believing, that their local Tory associations are peopled by swivel-eyed Thatcherite ideologues, when in fact most such people simply want to serve the community, and many of them sincerely believe themselves to be "non-political".  Even though their key objectives are  to see Tory councillors and MPs elected at every poll.  Whereas Labour would rather be in opposition.  Discuss.

Peter Mandelson's family was seriously dysfunctional.  When his maternal grandfather, Herbert Morrison, died in 1965 his mother learned about it from a TV newsflash.

He is interesting on points of history, because he was there for quite a lot of it, including being a fairly obscure figure at Walworth Road, then Labour Party headquarters, for a number of years.  But some of what he says is conjecture - he is only a year older than me so he was 17 and not exactly at the heart of the Labour Party when Harold Wilson lost the 1970 election, and yet he cites, as if he knew personally, that Harold Wilson knew that Labour was not going to be back in government any time soon and so Harold was in no rush to take on the hard left, who were in the process of taking over the NEC.  Well, maybe.  He presents no evidence.  He is not exactly a Harold Wilson fan, and I am, so there we differ.  I had forgotten too about the Fulham by-election of 1986, in which he (Mandy not Harold Wilson) claims credit for the slogan "Nick Raynsford Lives Here".  Someone else, namely Mr Martin Salter (Lab, Reading W., retd) claims credit for that slogan, and indeed used it when he was the Labour candidate for Reading East in 1987.

Mandelson says "So much of the Labour Party seemed weighted down by torpor and an acceptance of defeat" (p. 114).  That was certainly my experience in my early activist years, post 1987.  So what changed as time went on?  Mandy doesn't say.  But he finishes that chapter with "I would seek election as a Labour Member of Parliament" (p. 115).  I remember that statement being very public, having been heavily spun (we did not call it that even then) and I also remember Mr Salter saying he had said to Mandy after this statement (did he really?) "Why do you want to be an MP, Peter?  You're much more valuable where you are, directing operations."

Mandy seems to alternate between spite and right.  A lot of spite is directed against Mo Mowlam, who was a neighbouring MP as well as his predecessor as Northern Ireland Secretary.   She gave him a present as a "thank-you for bringing her into the centre of policy presentation" -  the present was a "combination radio and television" (does anyone even know what that is these days?), which had "pride of place in my constituency home" - so it was stuffed into the Hartlepool house where it didn't matter.  He says re the mushy peas guacamole gaffe that it was committed by an American intern working for Jack Straw - of whom he is not the biggest fan.

He says it was tax and spend, not the Sheffield rally, that lost us the 92.  He is right.  He mentions Robin Cook as a potential leader after this, saying "for soft-left party members who wanted to vote for an intelligent new leader but did not want to confront any awkward issues of policy, Robin was the man".  (p. 134).  What bollocks.  Robin was a policy man,  including on quite difficult issues.

And still the self-importance.  "I would often read and answer my correspondence from constituents at a big table just off the central lobby, no doubt to the bemusement of colleagues and visitors" (p.137).  Er, no-one cares, Petey.  No-one is looking at you when you sit there.  And if they were most of those who pass through would have no idea who you were.  And still the apparently careless rewriting of history: "Tony... became an unfailing supporter of OMOV" (p. 150).  Well, perhaps he was, but I don't remember it.  Mandy was "distraught" he says (p. 162) at the prospect of a contest between Tony and Gordon when John Smith died.  Oh yeah?

The Granita story was spin launched by Mandy, he says, adding that Gordon came to believe it, and that Gordon could never have won.  I am not so sure.  I think Gordo might have done it in the constituencies.

Of himself and his career he says, in what may or may not be an unconscious revelation (I do suspect sometimes that self-knowledge is not Mandy's strong point) "the reason I had first entered politics was that I hoped one day to be a fully fledged minister in a Labour government."  (p. 194) Really Peter?  So all that stuff about a better society was, er, what exactly?

Mandy worked with Philip Gould on and off over many years, and before 1997 they produced  a strategy paper saying Labour shouldn't be fooled by its poll lead - the memo leaked to the Guardian "to his [Philip Gould's] embarrassment - and mine as well, since somehow the media contrived to suggest that I was behind it" (p. 197).  So that's crystal clear then.  On election night 1997, on the way to London, Mandy kept saying, he says himself, "Will this majority be bigger than 1945, bigger than Grandpa's?". Oh, Mandy.

He writes at some length about events in the summer and autumn of 1997, including (p. 229) his bid for the NEC.  My own memory of this is of course Martin Salter, MP for Reading West and for Reading East when he felt like it, 1997-2010, announcing loudly in Reading that he and his brain bank John Howarth, were leading a campaign to get Peter on to the NEC.  Salter even tried to tell the Reading party at one stage that I was in agreement with all of this, which I most certainly was not - he usually prayed my support in aid when he was not sure of himself - if he was sure of himself then it was all him.  It is a fact that Salter and Howarth were chased off, and that Mandy did not know them - I saw his note to Salter in response.  Apparently Prince Charles wrote to Mandy to commiserate on his NEC defeat!  Am I the only one to be amazed at this?  I didn't think Charles would even have heard of the NEC!  Speaking of this branch of the Royals, Mandy says Alastair Campbell had a "near teenage infatuation" with Princess Diana.  Not how Alastair puts it in his diaries, from which it seems that it was Diana who wanted Alastair washed and sent round.  Whether Alastair realised this at the time or not, and I strongly suspect he did not, he was not going there.

Mandy chooses post election 1997 to bang on, rightly but rather boringly, about state funding for political parties.  He does have courage in citing his own statements which have been quoted against him "we are intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich" (p. 265) for example.

Boy did he love being a minister.  Most don't though. He says Gordon dobbed him in for the home loan that cost him the DTI job (p. 271).  It had already been in the Routers book (Paul Routledge, a journalist of legend) of course, but no-one had noticed.  He says that when Tony sacked him it was because "the media atmosphere was too ugly" (p. 276).

He reminds us, as others have done, of Tony's speech in Chicago in April 1999 on interventionism, which he says founded a "Blair Doctrine".  Like all the others, he mentions it only in passing (p. 282), though he clearly understands the importance of it, unlike the others.  On his sacking from DTI he quotes Philip Gould in a letter to him: " should never have got into the position that led to your resignation.  At any time in the last two years, if you had spoken to me, or Alastair, or Tony, or Anji about the loan, you would have been helped and supported and the need to resign would never have occurred" (p. 283).  Oh yeah?  That' what they all say, afterwards.

He says on his sacking from NI that Robert Harris fell out with Tony over it.  Well, possibly.  And possibly hence Ghost and the Polanski film.  "Tony had decided... That I was simply not worth the trouble, and was dispensable.  Maybe that illustrated something about the nature of government" (p. 326).  You are right, Peter, about Tony.  But that statement also illustrates something about the nature of  you, as you seem not to realise.

Tony: "There are those who are genuinely New Labour.". Peter: "Who are they?". Tony: "Me.  You.  And that's about it.". (p. 355).

"Most of the British public, and most MPs, had backed the invasion of Iraq in 2003" (p. 360).  At last!  Now we're getting somewhere.  Most MPs, yes.  And about half the public.

Tony had a Gordon as I had a Salter.  "I could handle any of this if it wasn't for the constant undermining" (p. 364).

"I slipped into Downing Street" (p. 366).  Why does he play to the stereotype with turns of phrase
like this?

The Hartlepool by-election when he left for Brussels - he refers to the threat from the LibDems as a real one, but he never mentions the candidate by name.  She was called Jody Dunn.  It would not have hurt to mention her.  She is a terrific person, now living in Finland with her French husband and five of her six children and doing sterling work on human rights.  She is well out of that one.

He thinks (p. 395) the European Commission should have more power than the Parliament.

But why did Tony have to go?  This has never been explained, by Granita or anything else.  Why does this always happen?  What is wrong with politics?  Is there anywhere this doesn't happen?

He writes (p. 433) about campaigning for the victims of the Omagh bombing and says he got a Sunday Times article to talk about it - but then, amazingly, refers to "the proceeds of the Sunday Times article with which I began the fightback over my firing" - they paid him for this stuff?  It was all for his career and not the Omagh victims' families?  I thought he should have been glad to get a platform.

(At  the G20) "one of the day's stars was undoubtedly Barack Obama... His height made him stand out".  (p. 460) Is he taking the piss?  Being POTUS didn't?  Being black even didn't?

The self-importance continues, not exactly sadder and wiser in his third incarnation as a Labour minister - he says his "New Industry, New Jobs" (hmmm) paper was ignored because of the Damian McBride affair - but no-one these days even remembers who Damian McBride is.

Mandy prepares for his conference speech under Gordon: "for years I had dreamed of being able to make a big conference speech, the kind that made an impact not only on a political level, but personally too" (p. 485).  So that is what it was all about, hein?   Not about practical policies for a better Britain?  Mandy was in the frame, he says, for the EU foreign affairs post, but Gordon didn't want him to go.  Hmmm again.

How often he spoke to Tony!  Not a surprise really I suppose, but, (p. 525), ringing Tony to discuss the Budget while it was being drafted - but I suppose Gordon and Alistair Darling must have known he was doing it.  He rightly says that the TV debates sucked the life out of the 2010 campaign - they were always waiting for them to begin, and then waiting for the next one to take place.

On the Sunday after the election, before there was a UK government, Mandy texted Tony "GB is going to church" to receive the answer "He'll find that a tougher negotiation" (p.550).

And that was the end of that.  Goodbye New Labour.  End of us in power.  OK with that Peter? Or is it all about you?  As it always was?

Sent from my iPad


Mr London Street said...

Fascinating, I loved this.

I always get the sense with Mandelson that the game of it all - getting people to do what you want, the intrigue, factions and machinations - was what really floated his boat. If people's lives were changed along the way that would only ever have been a happy coincidence.

Jonny said...

Interesting review, but you gave away the ending! Mandy's book was the top-selling non-fiction hardback in Britain last week. Unusual for a political memoir

jane said...

ha ha Jonny - anyway I think of it as the end of the beginning

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update on Jody Dunne - people were asking about her on the other day, and no-one seemed to know what had happened to her. As you say, she is well off out of it.

Anonymous said...

I was on a party committee with Mandelson in the mid 70s (during Wilson's 2nd government), so he could well have known Wilson. MPs pointed out that Wilson was very popular among the Labour voters.

Mandy was much more interested in organisation and bulding links, rather than actual policies, which many of us were.

He was also viewed by MPs' wives and others as an ideal potential son-in-law (this was before he came out).

jane said...

he probably did know Wilson in the 70s during the second government, but not before 1970

Anonymous said...

We now know what you thought of his book, do you have any idea of what he thought of yours?

Sauti Ndogo said...

Interesting that you describe yourself as a fan of Harold Wilson. He had some overlooked qualities (including a fine intellect and the common touch), had to work throughout both his premierships against a dire economic background (in both terms, largely inherited) and was personally quite "clean", but it's hard to regard him as worthy of fan-dom.

He made some disastrous choices for personal and political confidantes (including Marcia) and shone at least in part because of favourable comparisons with the freak Heath.

Wilson and Heath were the dominant figures in the years (1973-75) when I began to take an interest in politics, and I regarded them as the tweedledee and tweedledum of mediocrity. In contrast, I thought Jeremy Thorpe rather stylish and classy.

Anonymous said...

He wore Robin Wilson's hand-me-down jumpers, kindly donated by Mary during the time at Hampstead Garden Suburb.

Reminds me of that wonderful American electoral moment when Lloyd Bentsen said to Dan Quayle in the Vice Presidential debate, after Qualye had the audacity to compare himslef to JFK:

'Senator, I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine.
Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy'.

And Peter Mandelson is no Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and certainly, no Harold Wilson.

A jumper by remove does not maketh the man.

Anonymous said...

I could give a list of everything that Harold's Governments enacted to include:
Legalising abortion;getting rid of capital punishment;de-criminalising homosexuality for consenting adults of 21; race relations act; racial equality council; equal pay act, freeing up avaalability of free contraception; sex discrimination act;breathalyser/seatbelts/speed limits; state earningsd related pension (SERPS) ; Open University; comprehensive education; not sending troops to Vietnam;housing benefit; winning four General Elections for Labour - more General Elections than any Prime Minister in the 20th century; putting mroe women in the Cabinet than any Prime Minister beforehand; putting the first woman in a 'male' economic job -- ie, Barbara Castle as Sec State Economic Affairs; raising school leaving age to 16 and lowering voting age to 18.

Hardly a tweeduldum to Heath -- he got us into Europe - one achievement - as against three day week and total electoral disaster.

Tweedledum poster needs to read some history and get facts straight.

Re Marcia - where is your proof?
The world's finest journalists, to include The Daily Mail, tried that one for fifty years.

They had to stop when it emerged that Marcia DID have two illegitmate children.
Fathered by Walter Terry, Political Editor of The Daily Mail.

Harold taught Tony everything that Tony did best - to include winning elections and keeping your patry together for 13 years.

As both did, ironically.
Apres them le deluge.

Eighteen years from 1979 - Harold having been succeeded by an unelected disaster ( Jim ) in 1976. Sound familiar?!!!!

Wonder if we will all be alive in 2028?

We take for granted the things Harold achieved for the people of this country. Thatcher wasn't able to undo it.
Just give him credit for once.

I wish I had met him.

Sauti Ndogo said...

Hey Anonymous, I wasn't that hard on Wilson! There are worse things to be than mediocre, and I was just describing how I felt as a teenager growing up in the 1970s under Heath, Wilson and Callaghan (who I admired and voted for in 1979, the first general election after I reached voting age).

On Marcia, I wasn't thinking of the allegations of an affair. Whatever the truth of that, Wilson was certainly under her spell in some way, and it was not good for his government, his party or the country.

The four general elections won were not as impressive as it sounds. Only one of them (1966) was a decisive victory, and in February 1974 he "won" despite receiving slightly fewer votes than Heath.

I agree that Wilson's governments left some worthwhile legacies that are still with us. But his failure to improve the productivity of the British economy must count against him. It is almost astonishing to recall now, but when Wilson left office a substantial minority of the population still used outside lavs and a telephone was regarded a luxury for which there was a waiting list. Many of our towns were very dirty and shabby.

Anonymous said...

And my grandparents were cared for , free at the point of need in nursing homes and hospitals without having to sell their homes. And local authorities had council housing stock well-maintained and itr wasn';t a social stigma to live in one - also such tenancies came with free benefits such as garden-tending for elderly people.

And I had a proper student grant and did not have to take three or four extra jobs whilst studying- unlike my kids.

Without HW I would not have even been able to go to a university, to say nothing of choosing the best one for my abilities and subjects. I would have had to 'go local' and live at home. Or I would have had to get a correspondence degree whilst working in the daytime.

By the way - lots of cities , streets and places in 2010 are very dirty and shabby and many have outside lavs.

And what was 'Marcia's influence on the Government?'

Gossip belongs in the gossip columns or between the covers of embittered memoirs by has-beens and never-weres like Peter Mandelson.

For the record, Heath and Callaghan were absolute crap.

Anonymous said...

OMG - hubby has just given me a copy of this putrid book as a wedding anniversary presenet.

Surely grounds for divorce?

dreamingspire said...

Wilson and Marcia: didn't she help him cope with his emerging dementia?
Tony going in 2007 I track back to end 2004 when I'm now convinced he tried to challenge a significant number of the Permanent Secretaries head on, instead of negotiating a way for them to get themselves and their departments up to date while appearing to have decided for themselves to do that. Not sure if Cameron is going to succeed in that task.

Anonymous said...

I think that Tony going in 2007 was not un-related to the vicious smear campaign about members of hsi family waged by 'political opponents' who were in the Labour Party, not the Tory Party. Say no more.

Sure we all heard about the curry house plot etc, but this was much worse, more vicious and struck at the heart of his family.At the time, paper editors kenw all about it but actually had the decency to refrain from print. It would not have been the end of it and was a sign that an internal opposition was prepared to stop at nothing.

Of ocurse, Harold had similar and not just smut smearing about Marcia.

What links the two is that HW and TB were the two most electorally successful Labour PMs ever and some others are jealous and 'don't like it up 'em!'
How sad and pathetic - and detrimental to the cause of Labour and the people it wishes to be in Government to represent - ie, the whole country, irrespective of income, geography, or anything else whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

Apropos of nothing whatsoever - the Grender Queen is back!!

Dear old Olly has been walloping into the pork pies or pork somethings because she has acquired a whole new complement of chins to match her original set.

And now her cheekbones shine like little apples and her eyes twinkle like teensey weensey currant buns amidst the lard.

Joy, oh Joy.

And she will wobble all the way to the bank on BBC money.

Anonymous said...

My God - if Charles Kennedy defects to Labour then we will have wall to wall Grender, 24/7!

( Where is the arsenic?).

Anonymous said...

Grender is on the up!

Hear opining yesterday on the loathsome Louise Casey of the Home Office - she of public pronouncements such as 'I'm sorry I can't binge drink anymore' and 'Ministers make better decisions when pissed'. Fabulous, especially when you are being paid a fat whack as ASBO Czarina ( or Respect Queen ).

Grender was speaking in fullsome tones of the sainted Louise, along with Jacqui Smith - who was clearly delighted to respond to any questions as long as they weren't about porn and living rooms.

Grender rules supreme - expect Baroness Grender soon, with a seat in Cabinet.

Anonymous said...

I've nearly finished this book now - agreed with much of the pre 1997 stuff - but the post 97 is quite noxious.

The self-regarding tone is hard to take and I wonder really, if 'Tony' who comes in for a lot of the gratuitous fawning,actually has much to do with him these days.

Problem is, I can imagine that Peter is very difficult to shake off - I can quite forsee a spate of persistent phone calls, visits etc etc.
And I wonder who was really doing the phoning in the book. Was it Tony phoning Peter at all hours of the day and night, or was it Peter phoning Tony?
I somehow feel that it was the latter.
I can just imagine the scene: phone goes, Cherie:'Tony - its Peter for you'
Tony: 'Ah yes, I am just engrossed in a very serious and time consuming game of 'Patience' - can he call back next year?'
etc etc etc.

Anonymous said...

And now his self obsession becomes ever mrore prominent.
Having pledged that he would take no part in the leadership contest, having effectiveley 'handed the baton' to others, this preening parrot now launches forth, bolstering David and damning Ed as a revivalist preacher.
I intend to vote for David and he is no doubt, as angry as I am that his chances have been knocked by involuntary association with this detestable Uriah Heap of the modern political age. Charles Dickens was not a political sketch writer for nothing. The QUentin Letts of his day.

Anonymous said...

So now we learn that Tony was becoming rather worried about the extent of his personal drinking whilst at NO 10!

This is quite revelatory, especially as, at the time, Downing Street was putting it about that the PM was teetotal and, along with Peter, enjoyed nothing so much as a glass of hot water with a refreshing slice of lemon! Or maybe TWO of them!!!!

And now Tony confesses to ' A stiff whisky or gin and tonic before dinner and then a couple of glasses of wine, perhaps half a bottle'.

Now, given that everybody, when questioned about their alcohol intake, lies about the amount, I think we can read that as 'Two or three stiff whiskies or gin and tonics before dinner and then a bottle or a bottle and a half of wine afterwards'.

So that's all right then.

Hilary and Loaf Head.

Anonymous said...

Wonder if The Guardian and Squitty McGuire have, between them, boosted the cash tills of shoe shops, threatening to cast them at Tone?

In which case, lets hope they were Louboutins, Manolos, Choos and Ginas.

But I bet they were grotty old Timpsons.