Magazine article The Spectator

The Battle for Mr Mandelson's Life

Magazine article The Spectator

The Battle for Mr Mandelson's Life

Article excerpt

PETER MANDELSON is the man with the name that resonates around the political world. Every posture and banal utterance from the Trade and Industry Secretary arouses feverish media attention. This is not surprising. New Labour's `prince of darkness' symbolises the sleek, creepy manifestation of the New Times as master of spin and manipulation who arouses loathing and fear in equal measure.

But the media obsession with the man is bound to intensify next spring with the appearance of not just one but two biographies of the former spin doctor, and he has only just turned 45. The unhealthy fascination with Mr Mandelson may reflect the trivial nature of contemporary politics, the ultimate triumph of style over substance, but there is no doubting the commercial appeal of such publications. Mr Mandelson, however, is reputed to be less than happy with the knowledge that his entire life - personal and public - is being raked over in what promises to be the battle of the biographies. One is written by Paul Routledge of the Daily Mirror to be published by Simon & Schuster and the other is due from Donald Macintyre of the Independent to be published by HarperCollins.

Mr Mandelson may have good reason for concern about Mr Routledge's planned volume because it threatens to lift the lid on his colourful life. Mr Routledge, former Times labour editor, was this year's admiring biographer of the Chancellor Gordon Brown. That makes him, inside New Labour's petty, vindictive world, the enemy of Mr Mandelson. It is even suggested that Mr Brown is egging Mr Routledge on to do his worst; or at least relying on his press aide, Charles Whelan, to help Mr Routledge in his work of demolition. There is certainly no love lost between the two men. Mr Routledge's personal opinion of Mr Mandelson is one of contempt, but then that feeling is mutual. Mr Routledge's clear intention is to try to wreck Mr Mandelson's political career.

From all accounts, over a hundred sources have already been spilling the beans on Mr Mandelson to Mr Routledge. Seldom has a man possessed so many spiteful colleagues thirsting for his nemesis. 'I am talking with the whistle-blowers,' admits Mr Routledge. Mr Mandelson is well aware of this and is doing his level best to sabotage Mr Routledge's efforts. He has asked friends such as the best-selling author of Fatherland, Robert Harris, Lord Bullock who was Master of St Catherine's College, Oxford when Mr Mandelson was an undergraduate there and helped him get his first job with the TUC, and John Edmonds, the GMB union leader who assisted Mr Mandelson to gain his safe seat in Hartlepool, not to talk to Mr Routledge. They agreed not to do so. Such a blatant attempt to cut off Mr Routledge's information supply has failed to stem the flow of material that he is gathering for his book; but it is a sign of Mr Mandelson's acute sensitivity to what is going on and the apprehension in No. 10 at what Mr Routledge intends to reveal in a project he likes to describe as `great fun'. As self-proclaimed `mischief-maker', he is in no mood to pull his punches over a man he detests.

True to form, Mr Mandelson and his small circle of New Labour cronies are also trying to undermine Mr Routledge's credibility by blackening his name. As a result, Mr Routledge is developing a paranoid twitch about the black arts that are being spun around his project by Mr Mandelson. He may have grounds for fearing the worst. After all, Rosie Boycott's appointment of him as political editor of the Daily Express was vetoed by sources close to the Prime Minister. At the recent Labour party conference Mirror group chairman David Montgomery publicly apologised to Mr Blair for a front-page commentary in the paper by Mr Routledge that described the Prime Minister as the son of Thatcher. But Mr Routledge is immune to such intimidation. He revels in the role of trouble-maker against the rich and powerful, although in the case of Mr Brown he appears to have made an exception. …

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