David Blackburn

Who still believes in Peter the Great?

Who still believes in Peter the Great?
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Asks Jeff Randall in a pugnacious column for the Telegraph. The memoirs, Randall argues, have finally exposed the conceit that Mandelson was a tactical genius.

Randall says that Mandelson was a devious and divisive backroom spinner. Well, he ain't the Prince of Darkness for nothing. But Mandelson’s career and political persona were fashioned in a bygone era. Today, ambitious homosexuals climb the greasy pole out in the open – both in terms of their careers and their sexuality, (David Laws was an exception in the latter case). Mandelson’s modus operandi was determined by the conclusion that the 1980s were not an era for gays in politics, whether preening or discreet. Surreptitiousness suited a desire for privacy, and he has remained resolutely private even after being 'outed'.

For a man often characterised as self-serving, Mandelson was devoted to his party. His role in forging Labour’s hegemony is well documented. Much later, he sustained the Brown premiership because he recognised that Labour could not risk an internecine war. How then to contain the maniacal Brown? Mandelson claims that he and Alistair Darling put the national finances before Brown’s shameful partisanship. That squares with reports from the time, particularly those of Darling’s final budget.  

Mandelson was a lamentable minister. But his political talents are considerable. ‘Great’ is the wrong epithet. But if we’re playing that game, then ‘determined’ might be better – and his memoir is determinedly poisonous.