`I don't blame anyone. It was my misjudgement that was to blame': MANDELSON ANSWERS YOUR QUESTIONS

His home loan, his private life, his chances of returning to office: in his first interview since his fall from power, Peter Mandelson answers questions from `Independent' readers
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Do you believe that the modernisation period of the Labour Party has come to an end? And where can I get a copy of your book, "The Blair Revolution"? Nada Farhoud, Bromham, Beds

Of course not. The party and its policies are changing, and will continue to change, to meet the changing needs of the country. But its values stay the same. And I will be disappointed if in 10 years or so another generation is not saying, "These Blair ideas, they're looking a bit old- fashioned now". As for the book, I'll e-mail you.

Do you have a single fridge/freezer combo or two separate units? Tertio Ltd, London

For the moment, I have two separate units. But, as I think everyone knows, I'm about to move and don't know what the position might be in a few weeks' time. Why? Are you in the fridge/freezer business?

If you were still in office, would you have allowed BSkyB's bid for Manchester United to go through? James Camp, Reading

Given the very strong and unequivocal rejection of the bid by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission in its detailed report, I am sure that I would have accepted its conclusions.

Sorry to see you go before your time. I actually thought you were the brightest bloke of them all, but just one question: why did you wear that horrible moustache in the Eighties? Dr Dirk Pilat, Alexandria, Scotland

That's a very good question - and one I have asked myself ever since I shaved it off. And thanks for the kind words.

Which currently sitting Tory MP do you most admire and why? NC, Bath

There's not that many left to choose from but I would have to say Ken Clarke. He's both a paid-up member of the human race and one of the few Tories who has, at times, put national interest before his own narrow party interest. Although he probably won't thank me for saying this.

What are your goals for the next 10 years? Roger Hewell, Bath

I'm afraid this might not seem exciting to some people, but first to continue serving my constituents in Hartlepool whose support I have even more reason to appreciate now, and to continue doing whatever I can to support the New Labour government because I believe what they are doing is right for this country.

Can you account for the unexciting, not to state colourless and boring, performance of the Government since you left it? John Lunn, Tidenham

I just don't agree with you. How can any cabinet with Clare Short and Mo Mowlam be described as colourless? The past few months have been a period of tremendous achievement for the people of our country. We are keeping our pledges - keeping our economy on track, putting new money into schools and hospitals and reforming the constitution to bring power closer to the people. We've brought in the minimum wage, and the biggest- ever increase in child benefit. We're striving for a new future for Northern Ireland. This is not boring or unexciting, despite what the media would have you believe. This is a good government, getting on with what it was elected to do.

What advice would you give to William Hague to improve his image, both inside the party and to the general public? And do you think he would listen? Steve Goulding, via e-mail

I seem to be the only person in the country he's not consulted so far. But I have real doubts about whether any of them are giving him good advice. I think trying to sell him as a "regular guy" and a "working-class hero" is pretty much an act of desperation and won't really wash with the public. You can't sell as a regular guy someone who ordered Hansard from his local newsagent as a teenager, It just doesn't ring true. He's got to concentrate less on his image and more on his policies. He's got to ask himself, for instance, if he is sincere about caring Conservatism, why his party is so implacably opposed to the minimum wage. He's got to put his stamp on his party and resist being stampeded off to the right by some of his wild-eyed front-bench colleagues. But, frankly, this is not a question for me but for the Mission Impossible team.

As you constantly get labelled a "Machiavellian", have you ever read Machiavelli? If so, did you see yourself? Sean Mahoney, Manchester

I'm sure that Machiavelli would say "whether I've read it or not, I should say yes".

Do you think you were just the obvious next media target (encouraged by some discontented and under-achieving old, un-electable Labour MPs) or was there another agenda? Who do you think will be the next target? K McClure, via e-mail

The media do like collecting scalps. But, and this is a difficult thing for a politician to say, I have no one but myself to blame for what happened. I made a misjudgment and paid the price. It's why the past few months have been so painful. I've spent much of that time kicking myself. But because I knew I was damaging the Government and the party, I resigned quickly. And after the last government, that's a pretty rare event in itself.

In your private life, you are talked of as being witty and charming. Public perception sees you as cold and controlling. Wouldn't you benefit from allowing more of this private persona to shine through? Paul Williams, London

I am sure you are right and it is one of the lessons I will learn. I certainly think that I'm not as bad as I've been painted. But given the press I've had, that would be pretty difficult. It's one of those strange contradictions that I'm supposed to be all-powerful with the media and I've got such a lousy image myself.

Do you have a new double-barrelled improbably named assistant? If not, can I apply? Sarah-Jane Gray, via e-mail.

Without bringing to life some characters from PG Wodehouse, I honestly doubt whether I could top Benjamin Wegg-Prosser. But I chose him for his ability, not his name - and it was a very good choice.

You have recently been involved in charity work. Would you consider giving up politics altogether if you found that you bad a strong vocation for that sort of thing? Euan Tait, Bognor Regis

It is not really fair to suggest I've only recently been involved in charity work. My time as a volunteer in Tanzania when I was young for instance, was perhaps the most rewarding and stimulating experience of my life. It certainly transformed my outlook and equipped me for later life in a way I never foresaw. I still feel I can make my best contribution in politics. But if a time comes when I no longer think this is the case, then I would certainly consider working with charities.

What chance do you think you have of being the next Labour prime minister? Tom Morgan, Salisbury

None at all - and, despite what you may have read, that was also my view when I was in the Cabinet.

When do you envisage your return to Tony's Cabinet? Jon Barry, via e- mail

When I left the Government, the Prime Minister was kind enough to indicate that he believed there would be more for me to do. I hope that is the case - that I can do more for my country, my constituency and for my party. And for the Government, too, though what I might or might not do in the future is wholly a matter for the Prime Minister. I shall continue to do the best that I can, as I believe I have always tried to do.

Do you still stick by the infamous quote from `Dispatches' in 1990 where you described yourself as "the nicest person I know and what I say is the truth as I see it"? Sue Polchow, Oxfordshire

I can't quite recall who said that the British public would stand for most things, but they do draw the line at irony. But I know what they meant.

Given the intense economic pressures placed on our students, do you believe that you would have had a successful career had you been a student in Nineties Britain? Also, do you believe that this country will suffer in the future as a result of failing to provide a feasible method for many of our poorer, yet most talented, youngsters to flourish? Graham Paul, Edinburgh

I certainly think that youngsters and the country would have suffered if we had kept an artificial cap on student numbers while continuing to reduce the amount of funding per head for students. It fell by 25 per cent under the last government. Under our reforms, no parent will pay more than they did before, all payments are related to ability to pay, and higher education will benefit from increased funding. The student loan system has been reformed to give most students longer to pay and the loan does not have to be repaid until their income reaches a certain level. Only those families in the upper-income bracket will have to pay full tuition fees. The least well-off third won't have to pay any tuition fees. The result of the reforms is we can now lift the cap on numbers, so more than 500,000 students can go into further and higher education. That's good news for students and the country.

Were you aware your phone was bugged, and if so, did you think this was unfair? H Collings, Stafford

I don't know whether it was, but if it did happen, I don't think it was fair. What I do know is the calls would have been dull.

Are you now able to differentiate between guacamole and mushy peas? Holen Kolawole, Crawley

I think a former leader of the Labour Party owns up to inventing this guacamole story as a joke. But there are some stories which go with you to the grave, whether they are true or not, and I'm sure that this one will follow me there. I don't mind people laughing at me, but I won't have them sneering at Hartlepool. It's a wonderful place with wonderful people, I love my time here and I appreciate the support from its people even more after what has happened in recent months. I'm very grateful. I know some metropolitan types, who've never set foot near Hartlepool, think I'm an odd MP for the constituency but I don't think that - and, more importantly, I think nor do many people in the town itself.

Which of your achievements since Labour came to power are you most proud of? Jane Ashby, via e-mail

I enjoyed and greatly valued working at the heart of government when I was in the Cabinet Office. And while at the Department of Trade and Industry, I think we helped make Britain a better place for business and for people at work. I believe that the competitiveness White Paper on building the knowledge-driven economy and pioneering electronic commerce offers a new way forward for business in Britain, working with the Government. I think that the introduction of a national minimum wage for the first time ever will help millions of low-paid people, too often forgotten by society - and especially low-paid women. Our legislation on fairness at work will help improve the workplace. And I believe that giving the Post Office greater commercial freedom will offer important new opportunities for an important British business. I was proud to lead the team which produced such positive and constructive advances for Britain.

As a Liberal voter who voted Labour on the strength of its commitments to constitutional reform, I would like to ask Mr Mandelson which constitutional changes does he think are the most important to ensure a sustained improvement in the quality of UK government at all levels (assuming that quality is related to accountability), and which does he think are most likely to be implemented by current and future Labour governments? Pete Callaghan, Croydon

I think one of the ways New Labour has confounded its critics is in its determination to carry out what we said we would do. When we make promises, we keep them. Unlike the Tories. Some people clearly thought that we would either abandon our programme of renewing the framework of Britain's constitution, or become completely bogged down by it. We've done neither. Instead, we're getting on with what we said we would do. Giving people in Scotland and Wales the chance to vote on new democratic arrangements - within the UK - and then putting them into place when they indicated their wishes. Pressing ahead with a new settlement for Northern Ireland. Implementing new mechanisms for improving the economies of the English regions. Bringing back a citywide authority for our great capital, London - together with an elected mayor. Establishing a searching and authoritative inquiry into new electoral processes in the House of Commons - and bringing in new processes for other elections. Legislating to get rid of hereditary peers, and creating a new Royal Commission for longer-term reform - something I have taken a keen interest in from the backbenches. Improving the way both national and local government works. Getting right the detailed proposals for enacting freedom of information. All these are important. All these will improve the way government works for the people of Britain. And all of them will be done by New Labour.

What's your favourite Barry Manilow song? Elliott Gotkine, London

After many years of dealing with the Press, I'm tempted by "Read 'Em and Weep". But what about one of his most famous ones? I can't quite remember its title, but I think it rhymes with brandy.

Do you believe that the Government has a moral duty to reduce the gap - in terms of income inequality - between those who must rely on state benefits (including many of your own constituents) and those who can decide their own salaries (including some of your associates)? Ben Carlin, Brussels

I certainly believe that it is the duty of society and government to look after those who can't look after themselves and to ensure everyone else has the chance to make their contribution to society and fulfil their potential. This government has increased support for those who need it. But we are also ensuring children get the best possible start in life through our drive to raise standards in every school and innovative programmes, such as Sure Start. We also believe that for those who can, work is the best route out of poverty. So the New Deal, for instance, is helping to give people the chance of a proper job and proper training - and has already helped halve long-term youth unemployment since the election. Work for those who can, security for those who can't isn't just a phrase. It's what drives our programme of welfare reform.

Do you believe, as I do, that one's sexual orientation is a matter of privacy, and should not be the subject of public disclosure? Jenny Waldron, London

Yes, I do - and I think most people would agree. My personal life is not secret but it is private and I think others should respect that.

As a keen supporter of projects dealing with the homeless, how do you suggest getting the Government to address this issue directly? Fran Budd, Battersea

I think you are being a little unfair to the Government. Tony Blair set up the Social Exclusion Unit, in which I was involved, and made one of its first priorities tackling rough sleeping and homelessness. He asked it to report quickly, which it did last summer. The Government accepted its recommendations in full and has already appointed a homelessness "csar" for London, where the problem of rough sleeping is most acute. She has been given the resources to meet the published target of bringing down the number of rough sleepers sharply within three years. And councils are being allowed, at last, to spend their capital receipts to build and renovate thousands of properties so we can get people out of bed-and-breakfasts and into their own homes

Would you prefer to be remembered as a moderniser or a socialist? Robert Page, via e-mail

I don't think they are mutually exclusive. I would like to be remembered as someone who played his part in helping modernise socialism.

In your view, what are the Labour Government's three most significant achievements - achievements which will have a lasting impact - to date, and what are the three most significant tasks that remain to be accomplished over this parliament and (potentially) the next? Michael Cutbill, via e-mail

For me, the minimum wage which will help tackle poverty pay. Tackling boom-and-bust by giving the Bank of England independence. And our education crusade. We've still got a long way to go to ensure all our children get a good education, to restore and modernise the NHS, and to rid this country of child poverty. But we are getting there. And you're right. It will take more than one parliament, which is why it is so important we get re-elected.

What politician do you most admire and why? Mark Swift, London

Neil Kinnock, because he had the courage to be a moderniser when it was very difficult - and his guts and leadership saved the Labour Party.

Given the current state of the New Labour Government, what do you consider it has lost or gained by your premature departure? John Lamsin, Brixton Community College

Given that the Government continues to deliver its promises and continues to have record support in the country, I think I would have to say that it lost a hard-working Trade and Industry Secretary in me and gained a hard-working one in Stephen Byers.

How far do you consider that you or we can blame the media for your inevitable and very public departure from the immediate political stage? Michael Elliott, Brixton Community College

I don't. It was my own mis-judgment that was to blame.

If a film was to be made of your life, which actor would you chose to portray you? Sally Quinlan, Brighton

Alan Rickman (because he's not afraid of playing the hard guy).

Did you oppose the policy of cruise missiles in the Eighties? Anthony Young, London

No. I supported their deployment because that's what being a loyal member of Nato required.

Why do "Independent" readers like reading stories about spin-doctors and cronyism? Christopher Pym, Milton Keynes

Journalists might think they do, but I'm not sure that's the case. People are more interested in serious reporting about the things they care about than Westminster village gossip.

Do you agree with the widely held perception that since your resignation and that of Charlie Whelan, the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor has improved? R Kempadoo, Victoria

I'm glad this is all behind me now, but our departures have not made the slightest difference to the relationship between Tony and Gordon. They had and have one of the closest partnerships in modern politics and they work together in a way no previous Prime Minister and Chancellor have done.

Now you're not quite so busy, can you come and help me out in my local election campaign?

Lynn, Labour candidate for Western Park

If you think I would be an asset I would love to campaign for you (unless Millbank told me I had to forget a marginal elsewhere...)

If you could be re-incarnated as someone living today, who would you chose to be? Anthea Brook, via e-mail

Didn't Hoddle get into trouble for straying into this area?

Does Mr Mandelson agree that "absolute power corrupts absolutely"? Antonio Karvounis, via e-mail


Are you sorry to no longer be in charge of the millennium Dome? Jane Carr, Hebden Bridge

I miss the Dome very much because I think it is going to be a wonderful achievement and a powerful symbol of Britain's ambition and its self- confidence. It will also be a great fun day out (and an affordable one) for every family in the land. That's worth the sweat and tears.

In 1997 and 1998, it was widely reported that you sabotaged Michael Foster's Private Member's Bill to abolish hunting with hounds. Were these reports true? Terry Sessford, Wincanton

My job at the cabinet office was to think ahead, to anticipate the pitfalls and side-effects of our policies and sometimes to offer unwelcome advice - which I was not afraid to do. But these particular reports were mischief- making. I did not sabotage the Bill and was never in a position to do so.

Which books have influenced you the most? Patrick Fox, London

Zola's Germinal and William Morris' News From Nowhere. Perhaps, though, I should re-read Gerald Kaufman's [How to be a Minister]

To what extent do you feel that your grandfather [Labour politician Herbert Morrison] has had an important impact on your political career? Vivienne Qurrey, Liverpool

I've become more aware of my grandfather after becoming a minister. He combined ideas and organisation; a practical man, he was never afraid to take risks and stand up for what he believed. I think that's a good model.