I hastened last Friday to the Grays Inn studios of five news on Channel 5 to be interviewed for their 7 p.m. bulletin alongside Nick Watt of the Guardian, on the sensation of the hour. The sensation was the planned appointment of Mr Peter Mandelson as an EU commissioner in Brussels.
On time, Mr Watt and I were in place on the sofa. Channel 5’s Charlie Stayt asked us about the appointment. Starting with me, he asked what I made of his Channel’s public opinion poll which had suggested that nine out of ten respondents objected to Mr Mandelson’s appointment. I replied that this said more about the British public — most of whom object to anybody whatsoever joining the Brussels gravy train — than it did about Mandelson.
The three of us chatted about such things for a few minutes before Mr Stayt interrupted. ‘Sorry,’ he said, ‘but we have Peter Mandelson himself, live in a studio elsewhere in Britain, to talk to us. We will go over to him now.’
We did. After all, this was a lucky catch for five news. Mandelson’s people had been insistent that if a live interview were to take place at all, it must be at the time of Mr Mandelson’s choosing and must last no more than two minutes at the most. He was in a tearing rush and would then have to dash off within seconds.
The first question Mandelson was asked was about public hostility to his appointment. ‘Well, I agree with …the correspondent to whom you have just been talking,’ he said. Though we are not close friends Mr Mandelson and I know each other and have often met, talked and even worked together, and I bear him no ill will at all. He does know my name.
The interview with the commissioner-designate over, Charlie Stayt returned to Nick Watt and me, and we continued our discussion of his likely prospects in Europe.