With Lord Mandelson, who knows what to believe?Posted on July 7, 2010
The press, the airwaves and the Westminster gossip mill are a bit like the Premiership, the FA Cup and the Champions League – it’s an impressive feat to hold all three at the same time. Normally one will run ahead or lag behind the others in the current hot topic.
It takes a big star – or a big scandal – to hold the Treble, and they don’t come much bigger at the moment than Lord Mandelson (take your pick of whether he’s a star or a scandal). His memoirs are occupying enough newspaper space for Wayne Rooney to write out his full bank balance in crayon, and the chatter is only going to grow as the serialisation and publicity campaign rolls on.
The revelations in ‘The Third Man’ seem fairly interesting, giving us more insight into the backstabbing, infighting and conspiracy that ate at the heart of New Labour.
In so doing, the good Lord has only really coloured in more of the general picture that we all knew existed. Everyone knows that Blair and Brown didn’t get along, though it’s nice to get an actual Blair quote about Brown being “mad, bad and beyond redemption”. Everyone knows that Mandelson is an arch-schemer, though it’s good to get an insight into how he went about it.
Most importantly, of course, we all know that many Ministers were lying through their teeth on a regular basis. I’m not going to pretend that this is something that only applies to the recent Labour Government – it would be absurd to do so – but it’s generally acknowledged that New Labour, under the guidance of Messrs Mandelson and Campbell, took it to a new level of accomplishment.
That raises an important question about “The Third Man” as a memoir. Given that its author was the architect of a new type of politics characterised by the telling of untruths in what they saw as a greater cause, can we actually believe any of it?
People often portray New Labour as a cheap con trick, but it was far more intelligent – if not much more honest – than that (see Peter Oborne’s excellent “The Rise of Political Lying” for more). In their early days in particular, they really were setting out to redefine language in order to win political power.
In doing so, they completely severed the already weak links of trust between the political class and the public. Indeed, they lost the ability to trust each other, with Brown telling Blair “There is nothing that you could ever say to me now that I could possibly believe”. (Ironically, that was probably the moment that Gordon Brown had the most in common with ordinary British voters).
It is fitting that the New Labour era is being brought to an end by a whole book which we don’t really know if we can believe or not. It is equally appropriate that a book which is effectively Peter Mandelson’s longest ever press release is occupying central stage – irrespective of whether it is true or false. Just like the old days, he’s achieved his aim – and whether he told the truth to get there is by the by.