Magazine article The Spectator

What Mandy Didn't Say

Magazine article The Spectator

What Mandy Didn't Say

Article excerpt

Lord Mandelson's memoirs left the real questions unanswered, says Trevor Kavanagh. If even he won't tell the truth about the Blair-Brown years, who will?

Peter Mandelson had a rich seam before him as he sat down to write The Third Man . He was present at the birth of New Labour, helped plot its path to power and then sat on the burning deck when it sank. From start to finish, Mandy was in the thick of it. Little wonder that there should be excitement about his memoirs. But anyone reading the three-part serialisation this week would be left wondering - where is the dynamite? Either the Times had missed the best bits, or Lord Mandelson has sold us all short.

This after all was the book we'd been waiting for, the greatest inside political story of the post-Thatcher years. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown may have been the stars, but it was Mystic Mandy who actually brought the Great Illusion to life. The man who rose from backroom boy to First Secretary of State and Lord President of the Council knows precisely where the bodies are buried. He dug the graves. Nobody had a closer ringside seat, a sharper eye, so many scores to settle - or a more detailed diary to rely on.

As Mandelson tells it, this is a drama bursting with jealousy, betrayal, revenge.

It is the eye-witness account of two giant egos locked in a bitter political marriage, with Mandelson making it a menage a trois.

But hang on - haven't we heard all this before?

The raging feuds and personal vendettas between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have been documented - and denied - for at least a decade. The best inside account is to be found in Andrew Rawnsley's book, The End of the Party.

It vividly charts the savage wars between Tony and Gordon - what Rawnsley calls the TeeBee-GeeBees. His fly-on-the-wall revelations explore the violent personal clashes that undermined the government at the cost of the governed.

And who was the spy in the camp who provided so much of that waspish gossip? None other than Baron Mandelson of Foy in the County of Herefordshire and Hartlepool in the County of Durham - alias The Third Man. Not for the first time, Mandy was happy to drip poison into the ear of anyone prepared to listen. Now he is putting some of that poison under his own name. His lordship's book was rushed out in just eight weeks. And it shows.

This is not in the league of Labour's legendary Crossman diaries or even Tony Benn's dotty jottings. And certainly not as entertaining as Alan Clark's hilarious account of the Thatcher years. Now, it seems there will be competition. Gordon Brown has been hammering the keyboard with his own version, which explains his mysterious disappearance since election day. And his chancellor, Alistair Darling, is trying to beat him to it. By the time we've read them all, we might be able to piece together the real story of Labour's 13 years in power: the wanton destruction of a nation's finances, its reputation on the world stage and its once envied political institutions.

Even the Times seemed a little disappointed by its own exclusive. 'There is a central question here that neither Lord Mandelson nor any of the leading candidates for the next Labour leadership seem willing to address head-on, ' observed its editorial. 'From 2002 onwards, the leadership of this country gradually turned public services into universal entitlements. New Labour presided over an increasing public sector wage bill that would eventually have become unsustainable even without the financial crisis .' My italics.

This, to quote another Graham Greene title, takes us to the heart of the matter . . . what happened to all our money? When Labour took over, the national debt was around £350 billion. It had almost doubled even before the crash of 2007, when most governments were using the boom years to pay down debt. Low interest rates had led British households, too, to the highest levels of borrowing ever seen in any major economy according to the OECD. …

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