Friday 16 July 2010

New Arrival: The Third Man: Life at the Heart of New Labour by Peter Mandelson

Something slightly different today:

This is the UK first hardback edition of former Labour spin doctor/minister/now Lord Mandelson's memoirs of his time at the heart of the New Labour operation, The Third Man, published by Harper yesterday. Not the sort of thing I usually showcase here, but actually not as incongruous as it might seem.

For a good many years in the late 1990s and for a large part of the 2000s, I wasn't really reading much fiction (comics aside). Instead, I was reading political biographies, diaries, polemics and so on. I devoured everything from Alan Clark's three-volume Diaries (absolutely brilliant; I have a first edition of the original Diaries) to Andrew Rawnsley's Servants of the People (the definitive account of New Labour's path to power in 1997), biographies of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson, Peter Oborne's biography/hack job on Labour spinmeister Alastair Campbell, Nick Cohen's polemical Pretty Straight Guys... anything I could get my hands on really.

This was all the result of a late-flowering interest in politics, fired by Labour forming a government in 1997. I'd always cared about politics, but it was the party I supported getting into power that really made me excited. I'm not gonna get into the rights and wrongs of the Labour government (and particularly not the Iraq War), except to say I believe they did a lot more for the less-well-off in this county than they're often given credit. But of all the New Labour figures, it was Peter Mandelson I found the most fascinating.

The grandson of Herbert Morrison, the noted Labour cabinet minister, Mandelson went to work for Labour in the mid-'80s, running the 1987 general election campaign. He was instrumental in Neil Kinnock's battles with the far left of the party – the Militant Tendency idiots – but it was his friendship with Gordon Brown and then Tony Blair that would form the basis of his political career. He was selected as the candidate for Hartlepool in 1990 and elected to the House of Commons in 1992, from where he helped construct the New Labour project, plotting Labour's 1997 election landslide. Brown famously fell out with Mandelson after Tony Blair's rise to leader of Labour in 1994, but bridges were mended in the last few years when Brown – now PM – brought Mandleson into his government as a Lord. Mandelson himself was twice ejected from cabinet, the first time rather more justifiably than the second, but even in his periods in the wilderness, he never stopped advising Tony Blair and, latterly, when he was EU commissioner, Gordon Brown.

Tony Blair's autobiography is due out soon, and Alastair Campbell's already published his diaries, but this is the book I was most looking forward to. Mandy is a clever, articulate, arch, amusing man; his strategic thinking, understanding of how the media works (he was a producer at London Weekend Television before going into politics) and passion for a fairer, more cosmopilitan, more tolerant Britain helped make Labour electable again. The fact that he's widely loathed by large sections of the British public only makes him more appealing to me; large sections of the British public can be pretty dense at times. And if nothing else, Mandelson can certainly turn an elegant phrase...

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