Hatred That Lurks in Mandy's Heart

Article excerpt


THE other day at a dinner party I said something I didn't really believe. We were discussing when, or even whether, the Tories might be returned to power. I found myself suggesting that as we in effect already have one Tory government there wasn't much prospect that people would vote in another. Even as the words were issuing from my lips, I mentally disowned them.

A case could certainly be made that we have a crypto-Conservative government. New Labour is running the economy in a generally prudent and business-friendly manner. It is true that many taxes have edged up, but so they have done under previous Tory governments even while their ministers were extolling the benefits of low taxation.

Economics aside, it would be difficult to maintain that this Government is Tory in many other respects. Would a Tory administration have repealed Section 28? Or have threatened to ban fox hunting? Or have introduced an extreme form of devolution that seems likely to tear apart the union? I don't think so.

Even so, the tone of the Government is often, if not exactly Tory, at least calculated not to offend the sensibilities of middle- class voters who might in other circumstances contemplate voting Conservative. Such is the effectiveness of New Labour's makeover that most of us genuinely believe that the nasty virus of Labour extremism has been utterly expunged from all but the wilder fringes of the party. That is, until Peter Mandelson drops his guard.

More than any other man except Tony Blair, Mr Mandelson is the apotheosis of New Labour. By all accounts the Northern Ireland Secretary loves hobnobbing with the grand and the rich, who in their turn regard him as being on their side. Dear Peter loves the good things of life. He loves business. And so he must, it is assumed, revere our institutions. He has certainly given a good impression of doing so - until last Friday when, on a radio programme in Dublin, he described the soldiers of the Household Division as 'lots of chinless wonders'.

MR MANDELSON was recollecting watching the Trooping the Colour as a young boy aged 11. But it is not the young boy who thought that the soldiers were 'chinless wonders'. That is not what young boys think, even ones as precocious as Mr Mandelson must have been. The judgment is one of adulthood, it is what he thinks now in his heart, and it is loaded with class-based contempt.

The term 'chinless wonder' is a common put- down against the upper classes, though I have never noticed that they are particularly deficient in the chin department. In any case, most of the soldiers trooping the colour and watched by the young Mandelson were working class. Many of the officers in the Household Division were, and are, middle rather than upper class. However, to the student activist, ex-Young Communist League part of Mr Mandelson's brain, anyone who serves in the Household Cavalry should be tarred with the same contempt.

He must have reckoned that his remarks would go down well with an Irish audience. If so, he miscalculated. Thousands of young men from the Republic have served in the British Army, and many still do in regiments such as the Irish Guards and the Royal Irish Regiment. The only people in the Republic who would have appreciated Mr Mandelson's disdain for the British Army are the small band who support Sinn Fein.

He thought he was appealing to the gallery but the gallery won't have liked what he said.

This was miscalculation enough for a man who is supposedly a prince among spin doctors. Even worse was his apparent assumption that his comments would not be picked up and reported in Britain. Or did this genius propagandist blithely assume that most British people would not object to his smears against the British Army, which is probably our most respected national institution?

The Household Division has served this country in many wars. …