I have been reading the serialisation of Peter Mandelson’s memoirs in The Times this week because I love the great soap that is British politics.
Peter Mandelson, in case you have never heard of him, was a key figure in the Labour Party over the last couple of decades. He was, in fact one of only three significant figures in the Labour movement in that time and the only one of the three who didn’t become Prime Minister – well not yet anyway.
He is the great survivor so it is an unwise commentator who ever writes Peter Mandelson off even now that the Labour Party has been chucked out of office and its former leaders have all disappeared into the undergrowth for the time being.
Peter Mandelson worked as Tony Blair’s right-hand man, brain and confidant in the creation, with their friend Gordon Brown, of the political phenomenon that was New Labour.
He served in the Blair cabinet, left twice under the cloud of scandal and emerged for a third time when his former friend, Gordon Brown, now Prime Minister, was in desperate need of someone with an instinct for public relations. He was Gordon’s “eminence grise” or, maybe more suitably, his “eminence turquoise” – Gordon had enough grey already and Peter certainly injected a touch of colour into the Brown administration.
So these memoirs have been much anticipated but I am not sure that many people expected them to get out into print with quite such indecorous haste. Peter has not been wasting much time in the two months since the General Election that gave birth to the Cameron/Clegg coalition but then he is a doer, as they say, and, as his brush with financial scandal attests, he is not shy of making a quick bob. The book is bound to make up for the loss of his ministerial salary and the trappings of government that he wore so elegantly.
He must have thought that no matter how much money the book makes, he can never catch up with Tony Blair’s outrageously mercenary post-Prime-Ministerial personal fund raising schemes. We are told also that Gordon Brown is hidden away up in his Scottish home, heads down writing his probably multi-volume history of how he saved the World.
At least Peter has got in first and, more importantly, written an entertaining piece of tittle tattle.
Peter Mandelson is a funny man, good company, I would imagine, but also a very intelligent and effective politician with ample helpings of gigantic ego and ruthlessness that is a requirement for anyone who wants to succeed in politics. So the book ought to have been a significant piece of contemporary history….
…but, entertaining though the book is, it has surprized me that it has reduced the political history of the last thirteen years into the bubbliest and frothiest of kiss-and-tell confessions. The revelations are all in quotation marks…..we already know that the politics of this period was about the clash of two big personalities but Peter fills in the quotes. It is, and there is nothing wrong with this, like a gossipy chat down the pub. I will stick with it to the end.
For all his posturing about writing a serious book, Peter Mandelson’s memoir is packed with Tony said this and Gordon said that whilst I, Peter, mostly got it right. I suspect though, reading between the lines, that Tony and Gordon would have been lost without Peter but then, in the end, they both lost with Peter too. Love him or hate him, the man is a winner so let’s forgive him his vanity.
He makes me laugh, he is never boring and he is, as my grandmother used to say, as sharp as mustard, so I for one will be sad if we don’t hear from Peter Mandelson again.