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Home > Politics

Blair and Mandelson vs The World: What's their beef

30 July 2004

'I never realized, How happy you made me, oh Mandy. Well you came and you gave without taking, But I sent you away, oh Mandy, Well you kissed me and stopped me from shaking, And I need you today, oh Mandy.'

- Prescient words, as usual, from Westlife.


Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson probably don't actually kiss, although we're pretty sure they have sincere, non-sexual big hugs, or at least lingering handshakes using both hands.

They're certainly big mates. On his website, Mandy writes:

'My early political influences were my parents and my grandfather, Herbert Morrison, and Neil Kinnock. Most of all, though, I was influenced by the conditions of society and the world around us - from an early age, I wanted to see things changed. Sorry to be creepy but my chief ideological hero is Tony Blair.'

Is Blairism an ideology? There doesn't seem to be any big idea underpinning New Labour, which has continued to plough ahead with discredited privatisation projects and policies that are so right-wing they'd have Goebbels saying 'I think we need to tone it down a bit, Mein Fuhrer.'

If New Labour does have an ideology, it's probably distancing itself from Old Labour - and it's here that Mandelson made his name. Mandelson is credited with having made Labour electable in 1997, having been Labour Party Director of Campaigns and Communications since 1985. (Prior to this he'd studied PPE at Oxford before working for the TUC and as a TV producer for Weekend World.)

It's said Mandelson came up with the red rose logo for New Labour, inspired by his own rose garden. And although the modernising process had begun much earlier under Neil Kinnock and long-forgotten 'soft Left' politicians like, er... it's on the tip of our tongues... nope, it's gone*. Well, anyway, Mandelson did help stop Labour being a sitting duck for the right-wing press by banning duffel coats and 'I [HEART] the IRA!' badges.

Or something like that.

For Mandelson, what followed Labour's victory was a fairly impressive ministerial career, including being Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Mandy was in office during what can be regarded as one of New Labour's greatest achievements: the power sharing agreement and IRA decommissioning process.

Then it all went a bit wrong. Mandy resigned twice, over the well-documented allegations that he'd helped the Hinduja brothers get UK passports in return for sponsorship of the Millennium Dome, and the irksome business of his undisclosed 373,000 loan from Geoffrey Robinson. (Mustn't it be great having friends like Geoffrey Robinson? 'Can you lend me 20 quid? I'll give it you back next week.' 'Tell you what, here's 20,000. Just pay me back when you can.')

Other disgraced public figures now languish in reality TV Hades. But not Mandy - he's back again as the UK's next European Commissioner. The news was greeted with howls of outrage and derision, not least from Labour MPs.

But why is Mandy so hated by everyone except Blair? Although Mandelson has seriously blotted his copybook with the Hindujas and the loan, neither incident was corruption in the sense of 'cash for questions', nor were they lurid scandals like Jeffrey Archer's prozzie-fucking or Ron Davies' badger cottaging..

What appears to have made Mandelson so deeply unpopular is his reputation for political ruthlessness. Many Labour MPs also feel the party has been hijacked by a Blairite cabal convinced of its own rightness about everything. Even Mandy's old boss, Kinnock, attempted to discredit him by repeating at conference the shaggy dog story that Mandelson mistook chip shop mushy peas for guacamole. Labour party members who hated Islington socialists lapped it up, and the story stuck.

(In fact the story is true, but it wasn't Mandelson: the mushy peas mistake was made by an American student who'd volunteered to help in the campaigning during the Knowsley North by-election in 1986.)

And there's no denying that Mandy could easily feature on the TV show Hard Bastards. This contributor had the dubious pleasure of seeing him in action at a press conference back in his DTI days. Mandelson does not take any crap, and has a habit of intimidating journalists, many of whom are pretty arrogant and horrible themselves. In fact, any exchange with Mandelson leaves the victim feeling as though they're being told off by a particularly stern headmaster. Even if you've done nothing wrong, you soon start to feel as though you have.

But what's probably most raised hackles is the electoral damage that Mandelson could cause. Mandelson is a deeply unpopular figure, and Labour is in such a precarious position that it's reckless for Blair to lay the party open to accusations of cronyism (yet again). It's a bit like narrowly escaping being charged with murder, then filling your home with combat knives and books about real-life crime.

Of course, you could argue that Mandelson has been quietly shipped off to Europe, but this is a man who sincerely believes he should have a central role in government, and is unlikely to keep quiet about it. It's entirely likely that Tony and Mandy's fantasy world will eventually come crashing down around them - quite possibly when Mandelson starts telling a sceptical public how wonderful Europe is and Iraq finally catches up with Blair.

Even then they're unlikely to give up on the New Labour project. For some reason we can imagine them relocating to a bijoux little dome on the moon, making plans to bring the Third Way to moon rocks and passing Martians...


*It might have been Brian Gould. And there was that other one, too. Wore a suit- God, what WAS his name?

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