Hattersley: Party must rein in Mandelson

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The Independent Online
The public profile of Peter Mandelson, Labour's most prominent spin doctor, is too high and he ought to be reined in, the party's former deputy leader, Roy Hattersley, said yesterday.

He told GMTV's Sunday Programme that spin doctors had taken on a life of their own and they were exaggerating their own importance.

When he was pressed to identify his target, Mr Hattersley said: "One, and the obvious example, is Peter Mandelson, who seems to be in the paper too often, who seems to be on television far too often, and who seems to take himself, and be taken, far more seriously than I think is appropriate."

Mr Hattersley's attack follows the more guarded and veiled criticisms of Clare Short, who spoke of "the people in the dark", and of John Prescott, who said in last week's Independen interview that the party needed to campaign in the next election on substance rather than soundbite.

Few Labour MPs will doubt that Ms Short and Mr Prescott were gunning, at least in part, for Mr Mandelson, and there are many Labour MPs who bitterly resent the high-profile role which is now being played by him as "head of Labour election planning".

The job, which was a personal gift from Tony Blair, would appear to put Mr Mandelson on the same footing as the Conservative Party chairman Brian Mawhinney.

Hardly a day went by last week without one or even two press releases being issued by Mr Mandelson from his current roost, the party media office on the Thames at Millbank. The competitive nature of the business was yesterday illustrated by the production of two press notices about the Tory poster campaign; one came from Mr Mandelson, and the other from Brian Wilson MP, "Labour campaign manager".

Mr Blair implicitly accepted the perception of Mr Mandelson as a hate figure in the Labour Party when he gave him the code-name Bobby during his own leadership election campaign.

It was felt that if it had been known that Mr Mandelson was helping him, Mr Blair might have lost votes.

But there is no doubt the leader admires Mr Mandelson and his talents, and this has caused friction with Mr Prescott, the shadow Chancellor Gordon Brown and the shadow Foreign Secretary Robin Cook. How such rivalry can be excited by a man who has never been elected to the Shadow Cabinet can only be explained by Mr Blair's strong loyalty to him. Yesterday's direct public criticism of Mr Mandelson exposed a deep antipathy that extends right to the heart of the Labour leadership, the Shadow Cabinet, the National Executive and the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Asked what he would do about the problem of spin doctors, Mr Hattersley said: "I would say to them, 'Look, you've got a very important job to do, but it's a limited job, and it's a job which you must do under my close supervision, and you must do it in exactly the way in which I tell you to do it'".

He added: "I think one of the problems of politics in general, and it's now happening to the Labour Party, is that people present politics. The people who have the responsibility of advancing the ideas are becoming more elite in their own minds than the people who work the ideas out in the first place."

A Labour spokesman yesterday tried to dismiss Mr Hattersley's remarks as old hat. According to the PA news agency, Mr Mandelson was said to be "perplexed" by some of the comments which were made by Mr Hattersley, because he now had a clearly defined frontbench role as Labour's election strategist, which would see him adopting an increasing high public profile as the election approached.