Saturday, December 13, 2008

Could Mandy spin us into the Euro?

Well after all, who would have thought NuLab would have nationalised the banks? Here's today's Journal column.

Ever since Gordon Brown stunned the political world this autumn by bringing back Peter Mandelson into his Cabinet, there has been a general sense that things have changed at the top of the government.

An administration which had become a by-word for drift, purposelessness and lack of vision seems to have latterly acquired a new strategic focus and direction.

Sure, much of it can simply be put down to events, and in particular the need for Mr Brown and Chancellor Alistair Darling to mount an effective policy response to the challenge of the economic downturn.

But there are many who nevertheless believe that it is the political genius of the former Hartlepool MP which has really been behind the revival in the government’s fortunes over the past three months.

One aspect of politics that has noticeably changed, for instance, is that the Tories are no longer having things all their own way in terms of national media coverage.

Shadow Chancellor George Osborne has been a particular target in what has all the makings of a Mandelson-inspired operation to undermine his standing with the electorate.

It was also Lord Mandelson who turned the fire on the Tories over the Damian Green affair, hinting that his Home Office “mole” was not necessarily acting out of the purest motives.

It has prompted some commentators to speculate that Mandy has effectively stepped into the role that has been vacant since the departure of John Prescott – that of Deputy Prime Minister.

Indeed one national newspaper writer, the Telegraph’s David Hughes, went even further, claiming this week that Lord Mandelson was now running the country.

“While Gordon Brown spends his days masterminding the economic rescue of the entire planet, the everyday business of government seems to have been devolved to Lord Mandelson,” he wrote.

“Virtually everything the Government does - and it is being hyper-active at the moment - has his fingerprints on it.”

Hughes cited last week’s two-year mortgage holiday for middle-earners who lose their jobs as a classic bit of Mandelsonian positioning, letting Middle Britain know that Labour hasn't forgotten about them.

Others have even credited Lord Mandelson with bringing about the recent improvement in the Prime Minister’s general mood.

For those who view politics as essentially a psycho-drama, and the story of New Labour as an eternal triangle involving its three prime movers, there is probably something in this.

On this view of history, Gordon and Peter were best friends, until Peter decided to become Tony’s best friend. But when Tony finally left to travel the world and make lots of money, Peter and Gordon were free to make up again.

Those who have called Mandelson the Prime Minister’s “NBF” – New Best Friend – are missing the point. In fact he is Mr Brown’s Old Best Friend - and there’s nothing like having your old friends around when the chips are down.

But whatever impact Peter Mandelson has had on the government’s performance since his return, it could turn out to be a case of “you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

For the man who spun Labour back into power in the 1990s may yet be dreaming of one last political triumph to top them all – to spin Britain into the European single currency.

Even three months ago, the very idea would have seemed absurd, but the plummeting pound and the deepening recession have at last seen the debate starting to move in the direction of the euro-enthusiasts.

The question is: could the downturn finally bring about the economic conditions for British entry, and if so, would political attitudes start to change as a result?

Already, no less a figure than European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has claimed that “significant people” in the UK are talking about abandoning the pound.

Lord Mandelson, his former Commission colleague, was obliged to deny he was one of them – but the way he did so was, in my view, highly revealing.

His exact words were: "My view is that the Government is right to maintain the long-term policy objective of taking Britain into the euro, but it is not for now.”

Well, joining the euro may indeed be “a long-term policy objective” but then so is a referendum on proportional representation, and neither have been openly talked about by Labour for years.

For about a decade after the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, the debate over the single currency dominated British politics.

It was largely responsible for the internecine warfare which came close to destroying the Tory Party as a political force and also ensured they were landed with a succession of unelectable leaders.

Between them, David Cameron and Mr Brown had manage to kick the issue into the long grass, but thanks to the credit crunch, it’s now back on the agenda.

Not only does Mr Brown have the chance to resurrect all those old Tory splits, he may even conceivably get the opportunity to do what his predecessor failed to do, and settle Britain’s “European destiny.”

So could it really happen? Could there be a referendum on the euro in this Parliament? And could the public even be persuaded to vote yes?

Well, it would certainly require a dramatic shift in public opinion, but the lesson of the past year in politics is that changes in economic circumstances can bring about such shifts.

If had wrote in my annual Preview of the Year last January that New Labour would end up nationalising two major High Street banks, most of you would have thought I was off my rocker.

Yet it happened – and the one certainty in politics over the next 12 months is that we should expect the unexpected

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Ted Foan said...

A referendum on the euro? Good God, Paul, do you think the public are that stupid? We are still waiting for Brown to agree the promised referendum on the EC Constitution (aka The Treaty of Lisbon).

This will never happen so if he tries to wheedle us into the euro he will get a very dusty answer.

Mandelson may be the Lord of Spin but he isn't going to waste any politcal capital he has on the euro before he can ensure that Labour is returned for that prized fourth term.

Anyone who believes that joining the euro would be a good thing for UK plc will be sadly disillusioned by the events that befall us all over the next years or so. If we want to hitch our star to any currency it might as well be the US dollar because that is where the recovery will begin whether the europhiles like it or not.

MorrisOx said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MorrisOx said...

'An administration which had become a by-word for drift, purposelessness and lack of vision seems to have latterly acquired a new strategic focus and direction'

The single most important word in your entire analysis, Paul, is 'seems'. This was the pinnacle of New Labour 'achievements' - seems.

'Lord' Mandelson and Alistair Campbell were a central part of 'seems' and their reappearance on the scene has seen a re-emergence of 'seems' as the single most important part of any policy.

Look at Whitehall pre-presentational briefings, examine the modus operandi of ministers like 'Shriti the Shrieker' and all you have is a return to 'seems', involving as it does calculated deceptions and measurement methods intended to illustrate only the attainment of the measurement.

The knife crime figures fiasco is another episode in the long, wearyingly depressing saga of image manipulation and a Government indulging in the most pathetically transparent short-term politicking.

Financial policy options at the moment are the result of a Government that painted itself into an amateurish corner and now seeks the create the impression of virtue by patching up the train-wreck it was responsible for.

What we need is Statesmanship, what we have is ersatz Government. It has no merit. None.

skipper said...

I think we should have joined the euro some time ago and we would now be in a better position economically if we had done so. I like your analysis of Mandy,s influence. You could have nioted the not unimportant fact that poll leads for Tories of 15-20 have been converted into leadss of 5-10. Mandy's doing? At least partially I'd say. He was always the most talented member of Blair's Cabinets though the least trustworthy and sometimes he puts me inmind of Francis Uerquart from House of Cards, who, recall, ended up as PM...

Anonymous said...

worth a look at the Press Gazette site for a story about how the Screws had to pull a totally bogus story about Brown holding an early election!

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