Magazine article The Spectator

Mr Mandelson Kept on Digging until the Hole Became His Political Grave

Magazine article The Spectator

Mr Mandelson Kept on Digging until the Hole Became His Political Grave

Article excerpt

POLITICS

One might have thought that he would have learned his lesson. Peter Mandelson was lucky to return to office only a few months after the mortgage fiasco; politicians have been destroyed by lesser offences. But during his brief exile, as he brooded over the whole matter, he really ought to have drawn the obvious conclusion. As Richard Nixon, Jonathan Aitken and the Clintons could have told him, and as he should have realised once his unusual mortgage unravelled, the coverup can prove more serious than the original offence. Mr Mandelson's cover-up has ended his political career. There will be no second comeback. Indeed, there is no point in his staying on in the Commons.

Yet it was all so unnecessary. There was no need for him to run into trouble over the Hindujas. All he needed to do was to issue the following statement: `In 1998, to the best of my knowledge, the Hinduja brothers were highly successful entrepreneurs. They had not only invested in this country and created jobs; they had also devoted time and money to good causes. On that basis, I believed that they deserved their British passports. Sir Edward Heath, Sir Paddy Ashdown and other distinguished figures in public life took the same view as I did. Like them, I acted in good faith throughout.'

Had Mandy said that, it would have been end of story. There would no doubt have been small-print grumblings and select-committee questionings. Some awkward characters would have wondered whether there might have been a connection between the subcontinental brothers' willingness to squander a million quid on the platitude zone, the facile zone, the candyfloss zone or whatever, and Mr Mandelson's support for their passport application. But that is the stuff of page 4 column 8, not of roaring condemnatory headlines in every newspaper. Once again, Peter Mandelson had talked himself into a crisis, and this time it was the terminal crisis.

As late as Tuesday evening, he was persisting in untruth. This was his account of his conversation with Mike O'Brien, the Home Office minister. `The facts speak for themselves. I acted in an entirely proper way. There was no question of me getting any preferential treatment for anyone who wanted a British passport.... I simply wanted some information for an individual. I wasn't able to get it myself. I communicated it to a Home Office minister.'

Tell that to the Marines. The fractured syntax was the first clue to the greater stress being inflicted on the truth. If Peter Mandelson himself could not get information, how could he have communicated it to Mr O'Brien? He did indeed make his call to communicate information: the information that he was interested in the Hindujas' welfare. In June 1998, that was more than information. That was an instruction, as Mr O'Brien would have been well aware.

Mr Mandelson would have adopted a characteristic tone: polite and silken, but allowing a glimpse of the steel blade wrapped in the silk. In those days, Mr Mandelson was not only the Dome minister. He was Tony Blair's chief of staff and principal enforcer. As far as Mr O'Brien knew, the PM himself might have been concerning himself with the Hindujas, for if that was the case, Mr Mandelson would have been the messenger. In those days, any junior minister who sought promotion - or even survival - would have known that when Mr Mandelson was on the phone, it was wise to stand to attention at the other end of the line. `No question of me getting preferential treatment.' Ho, ho, Peter; ho, ho, ho. It is extraordinary that a man of such limitless cunning should have an equally limitless belief in others' credulity. …

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