This phoney story of a bloodless man emerging from the shadows

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The Independent Culture
HERE'S HOW it goes. Yesterday morning, when the other broadsheets had front pages dominated by the conclusions of the enquiry into Ashworth hospital, The Daily Telegraph alone led with another twist in the Peter Mandelson saga. "Book tells of plot to succeed Blair," claimed the sub- headline. On page 4, the main story was entitled: "Mandelson `plotted to become PM.'" And the plot? Ah yes, the plot. The plot is outlined in chapter 16 of Paul Routledge's book about Peter Mandelson - Mandy: the Unauthorised Biography of Peter Mandelson - to be published next week.

"There had always been a Blair project," declares Mr Routledge, thoughtfully sparing us the details. "Now, however, there emerged from the shadows the Mandelson project." Which was that Peter M "could supplant Gordon Brown as Chancellor and succeed Tony Blair'' as leader of the Labour Party and prime minister.

Blimey! Even Routledge admits that "Initially it seemed a preposterous idea". After all, as he points out, everybody hates Mandy, and he couldn't even get elected to Labour's executive committee when last he stood. But then the evidence began to stack up for the sceptical biographer. And I'm going to outline it for you in detail. Here it is. Item one, an interview in the New Statesman with the union leader John Edmonds in which he's nasty about Gordon Brown and nice-ish about Peter Mandelson. Item two, an article in The Spectator a month later by Irwin Stelzer, economist and friend of Rupert Murdoch, comparing Brown unfavourably to Mandelson. Item three, Philip Gould's book, The Unfinished Revolution, published in October, which absolved Mandelson from betraying Brown over the party leadership.

That's it. That's the entire "Mandelson project" which "emerged from the shadows". I have to say that we owe Mr Routledge a debt of gratitude for being able to discern, in the deep gloom, what most of us would never have noticed, no matter how hard we might have looked. It sometimes requires an active imagination to lend faces and voices to the nebulous shapes that disturb our sleep. Perhaps some day the minutes of the secret meeting between Messrs Stelzer, Edmonds and Mandelson will be published, and Routledge and The Telegraph will be vindicated.

It is a shame that the author could find no role in the plot for one of Peter's gay friends, because they must have been in there somewhere. The recent outing of Mandelson on television by the journalist, Matthew Parris, saved Routledge himself the disturbing task of being the occasion for another bout of tabloid gay-bashing. But in chapter 1 ("Scandal!") Routledge recalls that, in the aftermath of the Ron Davies affair, "The view began to take hold that Mandy was only the outward and visible sign of a wider network of homosexual men in key positions in public life."

The view "took hold" of the columnist Richard Littlejohn ("characteristically trenchant"), and Norman Tebbit ("characteristically blunt"), who both compared homosexuals to Freemasons. It took hold of "Tory politicians who asked questions about the magic fraternity". (I am unsure whether "the magic fraternity" is a Tory phrase, or Routledge's own.) It took hold of "some observers [who] see the club [of New Labour insiders] as a `pink Mafia' or, in the amusing American parlance, the `homintern.'" It took hold of Stephen Bayley, former artistic director of the Millennium Dome, who is quoted as saying: "What is worrying is that people of power and influence are involved in an interest group which just happens to be a sexual one. It is a secretive interest group. It just happens to be about male gay sex."

Bayley goes on, uninterrupted by Routledge: "It is both defined by the bonds of secrecy and strengthened by them. As soon as those bonds are loosened, its powers are diminished." A bit like secret protocols, really. God, when an idea "takes hold", it's amazing where it can lead you! But Bayley's sentiments do make it all the more surprising that, in chapter 7 ("Outed!"), Mr Routledge professes himself astonished that Peter Mandelson will not just come out and tell everyone about his sex life.

"The question arises: why does Peter Mandelson deny his sexual orientation?" Routledge writes.

Well, he does acknowledge it a bit, Routledge concedes; for here are the ubiquitous "others" again to "argue that Mandelson uses his gayness as a political and social weapon". If that's true, then Mr M can hardly complain when Fleet Street camps (whoops, sorry) on his doorstep. Furthermore: "The issue of Mandelson's sexual orientation will not go away, certainly not until he makes a clear, unambiguous statement that satisfies.'" That satisfies whom, Paul? Lord Tebbit? Stephen Bayley? Me? No: "That satisfies his gay critics."

There you have it. If it weren't for the "gay critics" the whole "issue" would go away. Paul Routledge himself has said enough about Peter Mandelson's sexuality to put the "issue" beyond doubt for all of us straights, but those "gay critics" demand more. Perhaps it was their presence that prevented Routledge from attempting any serious analysis of exactly why someone like Peter Mandelson should prefer not to wear his sexuality round his neck, in a way heterosexuals never have to worry about. After all, to find out why homosexual politicians might want to stay in the closet, Paul only has to reflect on the articles he himself writes about them. The same reflection would also give Paul Routledge other insights, absent from the book. Such as, what was it about old Labour that became so unattractive to almost all classes of voter that the Blair project was seen as the solution? This analysis holds the key to Labour history for the last 20 years, and Peter Mandelson played an important strategic part in providing it. So did Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and Neil Kinnock.

I have known Peter Mandelson for more than 20 years, and met Paul Routledge (whom I like enormously) at Routledge's own request. Some inconsequential remarks by me are (accurately) reported in the book. And it was not going to be, he told me, a "stitch-up". Yet the Peter Mandelson who "emerges from the shadows" is a man all of whose faults are magnified, and all of whose achievements are diminished. He is bloodless, manipulating, unprincipled, treacherous and calculating. Even his statement about Pinochet, that it would be "gut-wrenching" to see the old tyrant brought to justice, is attributed by Routledge (with no evidence) to a desire to curry favour in the party, and help him fulfil his shadowy plan.

I am not a Mandy man, and have never taken a briefing from him, or seen him socially for several years. I just happen to know something about him and what really makes him tick. And that puts me well ahead of anyone who relies on this homophobic and conspiracy-obsessed work of partisanship for their understanding of an important modern political figure.

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