The Mandelson memorandum

Peter Mandelson has emerged from the corridors of Labour HQ a happy man. And he's written a book to prove it.

Just as I walked into the large building overlooking the Thames, where I was to meet Peter Mandelson, a side door opened and two men came out. Both in early middle age, youthful in appearance, they were walking close to each other, yet not speaking. One was the man who will probably be Britain's next Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the other, his press secretary, Alastair Campbell. They set off up Millbank, on their way to the House for another meeting or interview - leader and fixer, yoked together in the business of politics - espousing policies, enunciating visions, getting things done and, most important of all, being elected.

Mandelson himself, who has been there and done that, arrived a few moments later. From the lobby of the Millbank Tower, an appalling piece of late- Sixties architecture in a wonderful position next to the Tate Gallery, we went to the first floor, where New Labour's new Communications Centre (Old Labour didn't have one) set up shop last month.

Readers, something extraordinary is happening up here. Something to make every loyal Tory's blue blood run cold. In a huge open-plan office, rather like the inside of an aircraft hangar, behind winking screens, sit two score young and very bright-looking girls and boys, busily plotting the downfall of the government and the accession of Tony Blair. Everything has just been thrown down, furniture, machinery and people. No unnecessary time was wasted on office ergonomics or pot-plants. This place has a purpose. On one machine a screen-saver scrolls the following message: "New Britain. New Labour. Young Country. Stakeholder Economy" endlessly. I am not joking. Boffins sit in corners E-mailing each other. Dave Hill, the prematurely grizzled "chief media spokesperson" of the party, sprawls over a desk in the centre of the room, gesticulating with both hands, speaking into a phone that someone has thoughtfully glued to his ear.

Over at Walworth Road, the decent plodders of the other Labour Party are sending out membership cards and amending rule-books, much as it would have done in Attlee's day. But in the Millbank Tower the Rapid Rebuttal Unit is rapidly rebutting government propaganda, collecting vast amounts of data with the help of an immensely powerful computer operation. If Hezza quotes Michael Meacher in a speech to Keele University's Gay Soc in 1983, he'd better get it right. If he himself has ever made such a speech, he'd better have kept a copy.

For many this is the apotheosis of Mandelson - a doomsday machine prefiguring the total destruction of all that they love and value about British party politics - with the boy from Hampstead Garden Suburb as its Doctor Strangelove. They see in it the ultimate triumph of communication over message, the tailoring of all important social objectives to the temporary fads and fashions of the politically unreliable middle classes.

A strong flavour of this appeared in the Daily Express this week, contained in a vituperative attack on Mandelson's book by that entertaining born- again radical, Roy Hattersley. "The Tory tactic", writes Roy, "is to pretend that New Labour is no more than an advertising gimmick and that the new leadership will smile and offer the voters whatever they seem to want". In his view not only is The Blair Revolution (Faber, pounds 7.99) an act of lese-majeste (in Roy's day, senior politicians did not embarrass their leaders by writing books about politics, apparently), but it is empty, lacking in direction and ideology, the work of a man who actually likes to be thought of as filling the "combined role of Rasputin, Svengali and Machiavelli".

It ain't really so. I have read a large number of such books in my time, written by practising politicians, and this is by no means a bad example of the genre. It is not at all remarkable that in some areas it pulls its punches - as over the future of the NHS - or that it pays elaborate compliments to shadow spokespersons, whose outdated policies it subtly undermines.

But in two instances it is genuinely daring. It explicitly rubbishes the John Smith alternative budget, which came out just before the 1992 election. This would have taken a lot of money away from a few who were not really rich, while giving very little to many who were genuinely poor. And Mandelson - unlike Hattersley - is interested in, and committed to, a large measure of political reform.

In a large back office, through which people troop remarkably democratically, I ask PM why Roy sounds so very cross with him. They had once, aeons ago, been pals. Peter campaigned for Roy to be leader in the early wilderness years, just after the '83 election massacre. He starts with a slightly ritual sentence about personal abuse suggesting weak arguments (actually I think it is quite possible to have both a very strong argument and, simultaneously, to abuse your opponent in the most offensive and satisfying way), but then warms up. "Roy has a very narrow belief in equality of outcome, which is the be-all and end-all. His means to do that by raising people's taxes and forcing them to send their children to identical schools". New Labour - as articulated by Mandelson - is not about these things. Of which more later.

I am brought tea. Peter himself drinks hot water. He doesn't take caffeine - and the Chinese drink hot water, he explains in a "what's so funny about that" voice. New Labour, New Age. Next we will be looking up Tony Blair's horoscope for next Spring: "Beware a tall, grey stranger".

I've known Peter Mandelson for a long time. We have many friends in common. When he was the chairman of the British Youth Council, I was the representative of the National Union of Students. We joined London Weekend Television as researchers on the same day, and were appointed producers of the cerebral Weekend World two years later - also on the same day. Now, this week, he seems to me to be happier than at any time in the last 15 years. Whether lounging on the green benches of the House of Commons as he awaited last Monday's Scott vote, or quizzed by John Humphrys in On the Record the day before, he seemed almost childishly happy. Was he?

"I am having a very good time. I feel much more comfortable, more confident than I have for ages. The reason is that with this book I've done something to back out of a situation that was beginning to get me down. Don't get me wrong," he goes on, "I'm immensely proud of what the Labour Party has done and of Tony Blair's leadership, and of my backroom role in helping to achieve all that, but it's like emerging from a chrysalis." Perhaps coincidentally, the front cover of this month's Prospect magazine depicts just such a Mandelsonian butterfly testing its new wings. It is a compelling image. I digest it as someone comes in to remind him about a youth meeting he is supposed to address with Mo Mowlam and an imminent "key candidates" gathering.

The problem for Peter is that he has been typecast. An innocuous question brings this response. "You could infer from that that I don't have any personal beliefs and that all I amount to is the sum of other people's beliefs. The claim has been made by my detractors [a very Mandelson word, that] in the party and elsewhere that I'm trying to make the Labour Party into a mirror-image of myself, something that doesn't stand for anything." Actually, I had been attempting rather clumsily to suggest the opposite. That in fact his own beliefs had been remarkably consistent, and that his new-found comfort reflected the party's shift Mandelsonwards.

This he likes. "It feels exactly like that," he says. "I have always occupied the same political ground. I have never wavered [another M word]." It's just that he wasn't in a position to go all ideological before. First, as communications director, he had to help Neil Kinnock hammer the Trots, professionalise the party and do what was necessary to improve its electoral chances.

And that, of course, is why he made enemies. The Tory press were fascinated by him and accorded him an importance that he now says was vastly inflated. Lazy journalism did the rest, and the myth of Mandelson was created. His colleagues were not best pleased.

OK, I say. But I saw you at the time, giving briefings and talking to journalists. You were very astringent. Don't you think that you said things then, in pursuit of the goal, that might have been better unsaid?

"We were under huge stresses and strains. Everything was bombarding us. There we were building a camp, starting with the foundations, while there were bricks and grenades and [laughs] rubbish pouring on us. Neil hated people who tried to have it both ways, who went straight out of meetings where a line had been agreed, and started playing to the gallery, especially in the early days, when it was all so uncertain. So I was uncompromising. It was my job to be uncompromising, to ensure that truth, decency and modernisation won." And the greatest of these is modernisation? "No, the greatest is truth," he smiles. Often he was just the fall-guy. "The leader would want something done, but would not want to do it himself. He didn't want to be caught doing it. Someone would have to do it for him."

But you hurt people, I whinge. "I wasn't hurting people for the sake of it, but because at that moment I felt I knew what needed to be done and people weren't pulling their weight. That could be very frustrating. I had a job to do. If, in the rush I was bruising, I'm sorry for it. But there it is.".

Now we come to what, for me, is the nub of it. Did you, as Mr Frank and Fearless, tell Neil Kinnock when he was being a dork? Would you tell Tony if he was behaving like a fool? "No. Even when I was at my least confident I would never, ever let it show. My cardinal principle was that the people I worked for should be supported. My job was to reinforce, even if I went out of the door feeling hopeless".

I saw this happen at LWT too. Peter was an ordinary producer (journalism was not his natural habitat), but could be an extraordinary companion. He has a personal charisma that I have never encountered anywhere else. More than anyone I know, he has the knack of making you want to belong to his gang. In an instant you are returned to the jungle anxieties of the playground, desperately wanting to be picked, to be confided in, to be joked with, to join in the exchange of snide witticisms. His bosses have all tended to become personal friends, charmed by an attentiveness and an empathy that would suit a lover. For those who retain his love, he is simply the most wonderful man to have around. They adore him. For those who lose it there can be a real feeling of loss and of betrayal. More perhaps than he realises. In the close world of politics, such relationships count for a lot.

Take Peter and Tony. Where others had advised Mandelson not to write a book, "one person gave the greatest support and never wavered, and that person was Tony Blair. He was the first person I went to and he said, 'It's a good idea - and it'd be good for you'." Later I observe that he and Blair are very close in age. "His birthday's in May and mine's in October". "Which day in May?" Peter has dodged far more agile interviewers than me. "I don't know," he says unconvincingly. Yeah, and I'm an Olympic athlete.

Passing back through lots of happy young Labourites busily rebutting things rapidly, I can't help thinking that - whatever Roy and others say - if I was Tony then I'd want Peter by my side. Leaders these days need all the help they can get.

Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral