Saturday, July 17, 2010

Peter self-destructs for the final time

Asked once how he would know his transformation of the Labour Party would be complete, Tony Blair famously replied: "When it learns to love Peter Mandelson."

Judged purely on that measure, however, it seems from this week's events that the party which Mr Blair led for 13 years still has a way to go.

There was a point, 18 months or so ago, when it looked as though the former Hartlepool MP had finally managed to win his way into the hearts, as well as the minds, of the party faithful.

But all the goodwill engendered by his return from Brussels to stand at Gordon Brown's side during his government's most difficult days has been dissipated at a stroke by his decision to publish a trashy account of the New Labour years.

In the past, many Labour people who found Lord Mandelson's style of politics distasteful have nevertheless forgiven him on the grounds that he was a loyal party man with Labour literally running through his veins.

But the publication of his book 'The Third Man' this week has surely demolished that defence once and for all.

It has oft been said of Peter Mandelson that he was always better at guiding the fortunes of the party and its leaders than he ever was at managing his own career.

But the lack of judgment that resulted in at least one of his two Cabinet resignations seems to have returned with a vengeance in his apparent eagerness to cash in on the lucrative summer 'beach read' market.

It is not even as if any of the revelations in the wretched book tell us much that we didn't know already.

Much of the focus of attention has inevitably been on whether or not Tony Blair called Gordon Brown "mad, bad and dangerous" and likened him to a "Mafia don."

Well, "mad" is one of those words that gets thrown around a little too loosely these days. It can mean anything from clinical insanity to having a bit of a temper on you.

It is hardly surprising, though, that Labour's opponents in the media have put the worst possible construction on it, with Mr Brown's reputation taking a further battering as a result.

But in my view, the book is far more damaging to Mr Blair's historical reputation than to his successor's.

It confirms what many have long suspected, namely that he did indeed promise Mr Brown in 2003 that he would not fight a third general election, but went back on it.

It is impossible to over-estimate the impact of this on subsequent Labour history. Had Mr Brown been Labour leader up against Michael Howard in 2005, he would have won that election with at least as good a majority as Mr Blair managed.

He would then, in all likelihood, have retired with dignity mid-way through the last Parliament, giving Labour a chance to renew itself in office under a new generation.

As it is, Mr Brown is currently being subjected to all sorts of indignities, with his government's record being trashed by the Con-Lib coalition on an almost daily basis.

But I wonder whether when people realise what the coalition is really doing to our public services – privatising the NHS by the back door being its latest wheeze – they might start to feel some sympathy for the former Prime Minister.

Either way, the Labour Party will doubtless in time come to love Gordon in the way it does all its old leaders – particularly the unsuccessful ones.

One thing it will never now do, though, is to learn to love Peter.

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Anonymous said...

I am a little new to this blogging lark, but I thought that if you have a particular party point of view, you should declare it.

So why don't you declare your support for the Labour party up front. That way I wouldn't have to waste my time here looking for unbiased balanced analysis.

BlairSupporter said...

To Anonymous,

I'll be upfront about my political affiliations. Despite the fact that I now consider Tony Blair a political genius (and we know how 'prophets' are treated in their own lands), I am not a Labour party supporter. Having said that I do not support ANY of the parties right now. I DID used to belong to another party, but they were wrong, SO wrong over Iraq, and of course they think they were so right.

I haven't read Mandelson's book yet, but as an interested observer I see it as part of an attempt to ensure that the Labour party does NOT drift back to the Left. (Blair's book will be Part 2 in this venture.)

The Left will take Labour back to an unwelcoming wilderness, in which they will get lost. AGAIN. How easily and carelessly they forget the 18 years up until 1997.

Whether "mad", from Blair just meant 'inclined to furious temper tantrums' I would not know. It does seem that Mr Brown was at times aggressive and irrational in his behaviour.

I am just finishing Alastair Campbell's Diaries. It is clear from there that there were numerous occasions when Mr Brown would argue black was white with any policy decision if HE hadn't suggested it first. And he flummoxed Blair on many occasions, insisting that he hadn't been included in the decision-making processes. Campbell says that he HAD, invariably. But he often sat in meetings moodily in glum silence often refusing to contribute or get involved, unless he saw it as HIS baby. Then, if he was unhappy at the presentation by Blair or others, he denied afterwards that he had agreed.

Ed Balls said on the Andrew Neil programme that the differences between Blair & Brown were on "policy" not personality. We tend to think it was the other way round. If it ws "policy" why did Blair not sack Brown far earlier? Because Blair was non-ideological on policy formation, and Brown wa stillinfluenced by the Left? Maybe. And in that leaning, the party was more with Brown than with Blair? Maybe. I am sure Blair wishes he had rid his cabinet of Brown in the early days, but his collegiate style - yes, it was collegiate (if only within a small cabinet grouping) and his and Brown's shared history, meant that he felt it would have been wrong and perhaps terminally destructive to do so.

On the ITV breakfast programme the other day Mandelson wrote out a message Tony Blair had sent to Mandy saying he was NOT angry over Mandy's "mad, etc" quote re Brown. Yet the press still insist that he was/is angry.

The press are beyond a biased joke in this country. They really are.

When Tony Blair was ousted I was furious. I blamed Brown, Balls and Whelan for the coup, and I still do. Bullies all. By that time I had grown to recognise Blair's leadership qualities, and how he had given the country most of what it wanted.

Rather than the present - "We knew they were dysfunctional, but not THIS dysfunctional" - we should be saying - "Even though they were dysfunctional, they still won 3 elections AND brought devolution, minimum wage, peace to Ireland ... etc!"

I don't know about the blogger here or Anonymous but I am particularly unimpressed by all of the leadership candidates right now. I suppose David Mandelson is the best of a weak bunch.

Just glad I don't have to vote for any of them.

Leadership (despite the backstabber next door) stayed with Blair right to the end. As did his communications skills. We still fail to understand how rare is that combination in ANY of our politicians, past and present.

Anonymous said...

'But I wonder whether when people realise what the coalition is really doing to our public services – privatising the NHS by the back door being its latest wheeze'

Paul,,Where were you when your beloved Labour party was busily privatising chunks of the NHS?

£ 1.6 billion of NHS money given to a private company when NHS supplies was privatised.


NHS privatisation OK when done by New Labour not OK when done by the Tories?

I thought you were above the herd mentality of hypocricy and oppossition for the sake of it,clearly not,shame on you.

John Zims

Stephen Rouse said...

I think we're going to hear John's argument a lot in the next few years. However, the many and manifest failings of New Labour (which Paul chronicled extensively, by the way) cannot be used for cover as the Coalition adopts market-oriented health and education schemes more extreme than anything attempted even by the Thatcher government.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that they can do it with a free hand now after 13 years of new labour, people are just to shocked to even bother or complain.

Yesterday a women who has just lost her benefits, she has ME and also a serious heart condition, all she said I was expecting it to happen under labour, so I knew the result under the Tories. We said are you appealing and she said oh god no, how can you appeal, it's not worth it.

How sad.