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: "...you 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
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?
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