Magazine article The Spectator

Why I Do Not Want to Be Part of the Lynch Mob Pursuing Peter Mandelson

Magazine article The Spectator

Why I Do Not Want to Be Part of the Lynch Mob Pursuing Peter Mandelson

Article excerpt


In August 1997 there appeared in The Spectator a prophetic editorial. This might be thought a not disinterested remark since, being editor at the time, I wrote the editorial. But there is justification, in the light of present events, in exhuming it here now. It was headed `Go, And Spin No More'. It began:

Until election day, 1 May, Mr Peter Mandelson's problem was Labour. Since 1 May, Labour's problem has been Mr Mandelson. On 1 May, Mr Mandelson served his primary purpose. He got Labour elected. Since then, he has become something of a bar to its being re-elected. He seems under the impression that government is one long re-election campaign. That is a sure way not to be re-elected. Voters sense that ministers' actions are not in the interests of the country, but in the interests of their holding on to their jobs.

Mr Mandelson had been manipulating the Sunday media in an attempt to distract attention from what, for the government, was embarrassing publicity concerning the private life of the Foreign Secretary, Mr Cook. The next passage in the editorial is especially relevant to this week's events:

Mr Mandelson could probably deny that he performed any of these machinations. That might literally be true. He would probably have got subordinates to perform them. But, as they say in the police and criminal fraternity, his dabs were all over the stuff.

The editorial went on to argue that, unlike many Labour politicians, who realised that to be re-elected the party would have to abandon many of its former policies, Mr Mandelson realised that it had to abandon all its former policies `and embrace Thatcherism too'. Therefore:

... to be elected, Labour made a Faustian bargain ... Mr Mandelson was the Mephistopheles. The party resents having to submit to him. It will blame him for everything that goes wrong. Mr Mandelson's spinning and scheming will make it easier for the party to do so.... Mr Mandelson, in his present job of 'presenting' and `co-ordinating' government policy, is an impediment to that success because he causes havoc and resentment.

This week's `havoc and resentment' surely make this editorial look rather good. But it ended with a forecast that has been proved mistaken:

We do not believe that his talents are solely confined to spinning. He might well be good at governing. At the first reshuffle, he should be moved to an orthodox, departmental job. There he should toil rather than spin.

I wrote that this was what he 'should' do rather than what he would. That was a misjudgment. It assumed, not just that he should or would, but that he could. He was indeed moved, not just to an orthodox, departmental job, but to two: secretary for trade and industry, later secretary for Northern Ireland. He had to resign from both. In both resignations, it was his spinning that sealed his fate. On both occasions, when at bay, he toured the television studios in an attempt to spin his way out of trouble. It only made his trouble worse. By all reliable accounts, at both ministries, he toiled well. But I was wrong to think that, with him, toiling and spinning were mutually exclusive.

Not that spinning was, in either case, the main reason for his fall. The first fall was caused by his failing to declare that home loan. This second, and terminal, fall was caused by his giving the impression of having lied. I say `giving the impression of having lied', partly because I do not want to be part of the pursuing lynch mob that calls him a liar in print only because it is now safe to do so, but mainly because `the impression' of lying is all he gave. …

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