Martin Bright

The PBR Suggests that Labour Thinks It’s All Over but Peter Mandelson Knows It Is

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Labour's Pre-Budget Report has been interpreted as a cynical electioneering exercise, a last-ditch attempt to to open up clear blue water between Labour and the Conservatives. Perhaps paradoxically, I thought it was a sign that the Government knows the game is up. Of course the Labour Party has to fight the election - it can't simply not turn up. But it strikes me that using the UK economy quite so blatantly for party political advantage when it was already so fragile, was a strategic error. I am sure Alistair Darling believed he was doing the right thing. He is a man of principle. But it felt very much like a last throw of the dice. 

Labour ministers (and, more importantly, their spouses) are beginning to talk about what they will do when they are no longer in office. Some are even talking of "gap years". There is every chance that next year's election will be closer than the Tories hope, but it may be closer than some Labour politicians hope as well. A generalised gnawing fatigue has set in.

The biggest indication that the Labour high command knows it's over was Peter Mandelson's pitch for the job of High Representative of the EU. I have it on very good authority that he was absolutely desperate for the job. The trouble is that he made himself so unpopular during his time in Brussels that no one (least of all the European Parliament's socialists) wanted him to get it. 

It may be some time before we know exactly how Gordon Brown persuaded Mandelson to stay in the government when he failed to get the job. One suggestion is that he has demanded to be foreign secretary in the unlikely event of a Labour victory at the next election. But this can't be the whole story as the outcome is so unlikely.

As it turns out, Cathy Ashton was a popular, if surprising, choice for the job. Within six months she could well be the Labour Party's most senior politician in office, which is presumably why Peter Mandelson found the job so attractive.