Magazine article The Spectator

It's Time to Put an End to the Fibs and the Pashes at at Tonian's

Magazine article The Spectator

It's Time to Put an End to the Fibs and the Pashes at at Tonian's

Article excerpt

Only one author could do justice to the Blair/Brown/Mandelson saga and she, alas, is no longer with us. It would have taken Angela Brazil to chronicle the conflicting passions - or rather pashes - in the overheated girls' school that the Blair government frequently resembles.

The feuds and infighting have always been there. Gordon Brown and Robin Cook have been on non-speaks for so long that their quarrel has become Labour's Schleswig-Holstein Question; no one can remember how it started. But it is at least thought to have had masculine origins - a dispute about power and influence in Scotland, or some such - before it escalated into prima donna-ishness.

We are dealing with unstable characters. On many occasions, Mr Blair has urged Mr Mandelson to make it up with Mr Brown; why is it, the PM once exclaimed, that the two colleagues he most valued were so incapable of getting on? But his protests have been ignored. The Prime Minister may call for a ceasefire, and even think that he has negotiated one, but five minutes later, they are at it again. It is in the nature of the two men.

Gordon Brown seems to have an emotional need to bear grudges. He is never happier than when he is gnawing on some old bone of grievance, nursing his wrath to keep it warm. As for Mr Mandelson, he seems to have an emotional need to stir up trouble. Both men also demand exclusive loyalty from their own supporters, which can make life difficult for lobby journalists who are merely trying to cultivate as wide a range of sources as possible. But anyone deemed by the Brownites to be too close to Mr Mandelson - or vice versa - risks the withdrawal of favours. Hacks virtually have to choose whether they will be in the maths mistress's faction or the head girl's.

All this has endless amusement value, but there is a deeper significance. The whole business throws light on one of the great mysteries of current politics: the real nature of New Labour and what its principals actually believe. For a start, it is instructive to compare Mr Brown's original attitude to Mr Mandelson, before they fell out over the Smith succession, with Mr Blair's. Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson used to be friends, though Mr Brown made little attempt to commend Mandy to his mentor John Smith. Mr Smith, who believed that, ultimately, politics was about truth, principles and morality, thought that Mr Mandelson was of limited usefulness. But the future Chancellor, from a different political generation, respected Peter Mandelson's skills as a media manipulator, though not as much as Tony Blair did.

Gordon Brown has considerable and justified intellectual self-confidence; he never doubts his own ability to think problems through. His opinions have altered since the days when he read Marx, wrote an admiring biography of James Maxton, the Red Clydesider, and was full of socialist zeal. He retains a moral and intellectual force derived from his earlier convictions, even though his present position is much less coherent. But he would not admit that, and anyway he has never relied on Peter Mandelson to tell him what to think.

Unlike Mr Blair. Gordon thought that once he had worked out the message, Peter would be good at putting it across. To Tony, however, the medium was the message; everything was sublimated into presentation. Tony Blair's beliefs were of the shallowest; ditto, his thinking. For five years, he has been making himself up as he goes along. This is a stressful business, which is why he is so emotionally dependent on his two closest advisers, Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell. …

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