Right of Reply: Hilary Wainwright

The editor of `Red Pepper' replies to David Aaronovitch's article on splits in the Government
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The Independent Culture
DAVID AARONOVITCH is wrong to assume that plotting and jostling for position are all that we'll see in the aftermath of Peter Mandelson's resignation, and that Tony Blair's charisma will win through.

Prescott's efforts to exploit a mood of disaffection with New Labour point to deeper political forces than he or other cabinet ministers can control. MPs, councillors, party members and trade unionists generally have gained a moral confidence to speak out where before they suffered in silent anxiety.

This stems not only from Mandelson's fall but also from what his aspirations (and the Prime Minister's extravagant sympathy towards them) reveal about New Labour. Mandelson's desire to live in swankyland, a desire so strong that all his renowned acumen was thrown to the wind, is a striking metaphor for New Labour. With his half-million-pound house, Mandelson is saying: "Look, I'm one of you; I'm a Labour minister without any hang-ups about associating with the filthy rich - in fact I prefer them to people who live dirt cheap." Meanwhile, the Government's policies are saying to the rich: "You're all right with us."

Charlie Whelan's efforts to make the Chancellor look like an all-year Father Christmas have provided a camouflage. But low renewals of party membership (even in Sedgefield, I hear) and opinion polls in Scotland and Wales, are signs that the camouflage is wearing thin. The Prescott- Brown alliance may be evoking the mantra of "traditional values" to advance its own position, and also provide cover for a government whose moral character is in question with its own supporters. But the sounds they give off as they jostle encourage more radical pressures for change.

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