The Room Went Quiet. `I Didn't Know You Had a Loan' Mandelson : The Biography

By Macintyre, Donald | The Independent (London, England), April 19, 1999 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Room Went Quiet. `I Didn't Know You Had a Loan' Mandelson : The Biography


Macintyre, Donald, The Independent (London, England)


The suite of windowless, low-ceiling basement rooms under the Department of Trade and Industry headquarters in Victoria Street are soulless even by the standards of premises owned by Her Majesty's Government. But on the evening of Wednesday 17 December 1998 nobody minded that. There was a steady hum of euphoric chatter as some of Whitehall's brightest and best celebrated what most of them considered the department's greatest triumph since the general election. Partly, of course, it was because Christmas was coming; there was an end-of-term atmosphere. But it was also because of the event which the civil servants and DTI ministers had come to honour. Peter Mandelson, and his most senior officials, felt that the Competitiveness White Paper, unveiled just over two hours earlier, was the crowning achievement of his six months at the department.

It was a few minutes after they left the party that his 24-year- old assistant, Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, broke the news to Mandelson that his pounds 373,000 home loan from Geoffrey Robinson, arranged in 1996, was soon to become public in a book about the Industry Secretary. If Mandelson was terrified by the prospect, he did not show it.

The following morning, in his large, modernist eighth-floor office, its huge picture window looking down over Westminster Abbey, he convened a meeting with Sir Michael Scholar and other officials. He took this remarkable meeting in what one of those present would later observe was a very "Peterish" way. He asked Sir Michael to refresh his memory on his role, or lack of it, in the DTI investigation into complaints over Robinson's business and financial affairs, including the letters he had written to Conservative MPs on the subject. Back in September, when Scholar had told Mandelson about the investigation into Robinson, by now a Treasury minister, he had accepted the permanent secretary's view that he and other DTI ministers should not be "involved in the process". When Scholar had finished his resume, Mandelson said quietly: "Well, even if I had not had a loan to buy my house from Geoffrey, I would have still stood aside from the investigation." There was a long, ominous pause. "I didn't know you had a loan to buy your house," Scholar replied, just as quietly. "We'll have to look into it." It was a conversation which should have taken place almost exactly six months earlier, when Mandelson, thrilled to be in the Cabinet at last, and with a department of his own, first arrived to replace Margaret Beckett at the DTI on the day of the reshuffle. Now, though he did not yet realise this, it was too late. How did it happen? How was it that a politician so famous for being Tony Blair's human radar, so skilled at spotting the treacherous shallows and reefs that lie in wait for any government, could fail to see the jagged rock on which his own boat would founder? One of the Labour Party's most uncompromising chieftains puts himself under an enormous obligation - however generously and innocently conferred - to one of his greatest adversary's closest allies. Then he fails either to consult or inform Tony Blair, his own best friend in politics, apparently for no better reason than that his benefactor has exhorted him not to. When he arrives in government, a bloodied veteran of campaigns against Tory violations of ministerial standards, he does not tell the Cabinet Secretary of his plainly embarrassing financial obligations. At any point he could probably have prevented the coming catastrophe. If a colleague had been in the same position he would have convened crisis meetings, organised swat teams, devised a media strategy, enlisted accountants, told him to sell his house - virtually anything to defuse the ticking explosive under the seat of government. Instead, even when every three months or so Wegg- Prosser mentioned the loan, usually when they were sitting in the very house it had funded, he merely shuddered briefly and changed the subject.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Room Went Quiet. `I Didn't Know You Had a Loan' Mandelson : The Biography
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?