Peter Hoskin

Five highlights from the Mandelson serialisation

Five highlights from the Mandelson serialisation
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So now we know what happened during those uncertain days following the election in May – or at least we know Peter Mandelson's side of it.  The Times begins its serialisation of the Dark Lord's book today with a front-page photo of Nick Clegg and the legend, "Clegg the Executioner".  And, inside, Mandelson explains how the Lib Dem leader made Gordon Brown's departure a precondition of any coalition deal with Labour.  Not the most surprising news ever, but worth having on record nonetheless.

Aside from that, there's little of much weight in these first extracts, but plenty of titbits for political anoraks. Here are five that jumped out at me:

1) Blair thought that a LibLab deal was an "error".  Going off Peter Mandelson's account of a telephone conversation with Tony Blair, it seems the former PM takes a more long-term view of Labour's position: that now is the time for them to be out of power, so that they can return in future.  Mandelson quotes him thus: "There will be an outcry if we stay on ….  There’s going to be another election, and we’ll be smashed if we don’t make the right judgments.”

2) Mandelson was the first to moot the possibility of Brown going.  In a text to Danny Alexander, "Between us (pls protect) ask Nick how big an obstacle is GB for LDs."

3) Danny Alexander's summary of the negotiations. 
Call it a diplomatic front, given that he was talking to Mandelson at the time, but Alexander's summary of proceedings is worth noting down.  As Mandelson puts it, "The realities, as he saw them, were that while the Lib Dems were politically more natural partners with Labour the Tories were being remarkably open-minded."  You wonder whether that's still essentially the Chief Secretary to the Treasury's position, or whether coalition government has changed a few fundamentals.

4) Mandelson impressed by David Cameron.  At the time, I was struck by Cameron's "Big Comprehensive Offer" to the Lib Dems – and it seems like Mandelson was too: "Gordon and his team told me they felt it was a mistaken show of weakness, given that the Tories had won the largest number of seats. To me, it sounded like the new politics."  He goes on to add that a deal with the Lib Dems would offer Cameron "a renewed prospect of delivering a changed perception of his party."

5) Brown's Lib Dem Cabinet.  There's something quite tragic about the idea of Brown picking out Lib Dem Cabinet ministers in a moment of fleeting optimism.  But that's what he did anyway.  According to Mandelson, "[Clegg would have been put] in charge of constitutional reform, Chris Huhne at Energy, David Laws at Culture, Media and Sport, and Paddy Ashdown as Defence Secretary."  Vince Cable wouldn't have been made Chancellor, but would have received "an economic portfolio".