Magazine article The Spectator

They Have No Sense of Shame, as Well as No Deep Sense of Britain

Magazine article The Spectator

They Have No Sense of Shame, as Well as No Deep Sense of Britain

Article excerpt

Jonathan Aitken once said that politicians who suddenly lose high office take two years to recover their equipoise. He was thinking of Margaret Thatcher and Norman Lamont, but it may also now be true of Peter Mandelson. If so, his former Cabinet colleagues are in for an interesting couple of years.

One can understand why Mr Mandelson feels the pain of exclusion so acutely, for he played a vital role in the election and success of this government. Yet he is not only to be denied the rewards of his labours; he has to endure slights and scorn from the likes of Jack Straw and Clare Short, whose contribution was negligible compared with his own. Mr Straw, indeed, is a candidate for the job Peter most wanted: Foreign Secretary (though the odds have now moved in favour of Robin Cook surviving). It is a bitter cup for poor old Mandy. No wonder if like Malvolio, the Shakespeare character he most resembles, he is saying, `I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you.'

But this is not just high-camp farce. It plays on deeper political emotions and will have long-term consequences. It is also the worst possible background noise for the beginning of an election campaign, especially when the other running story is missing body parts. (Though Dr Mandelson is not to blame for that. He tried to ensure that old Labour's heart and brain were cremated along with the rest of the corpse.)

Until a generation ago, many doctors treated their patients as if they were living anatomical specimens. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that some doctors regarded dead patients as a fruitful source of anatomical specimens, and did not trouble themselves with niceties such as consent. The government is not to blame for all this, but do the public realise that? It will certainly add to a growing sense of unease and to the feeling that Labour has welshed on its promises.

But Labour's loss of credibility has not yet helped the Tories to enhance theirs. The voters are still more likely to say `they're all as bad as each other' than `perhaps it's time to give that Hague fellow a hearing'. William Hague must find ways of projecting himself while hoping that the press continue to persecute Keith Vaz, whose conduct has been much more resignation-worthy than Peter Mandelson's, and that further scandals emerge. It is probable that they will, for there is mounting evidence of this government's casual attitude both to the truth and in its dealings with rich businessmen. Mr Mandelson has said that unless he is vindicated, his memory might be jogged over the Bernie Ecclestone donation. But even if he is blandished back to silence, his memory is not the only source-material for wrongdoing.

On one point, we can be clear. If there is further Ecclestone-style trouble, Mr Blair will not be able to deflect it merely by insisting that he is a `fairly straightforward sort of guy'. Such a claim would now be greeted by near-universal howls of derision. Mr Blair is still likely to win the election, but his moral authority had been impaired even before the Mandelson affair. It has now suffered further damage just when he needed it most, and not only for his election campaign.

Before Christmas, I informed my readers that the Foreign Office had plans for the autumn. It expected that a referendum on the euro would be held in September or October. This was then authoritatively denied, which does not mean that my sources had been misleading. Whether or not Rupert Murdoch reads The Spectator, there were reports that he had intervened to extract an assurance from the PM that there would be no early referendum. …

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