Mandy: If he was made of chocolate, he'd eat himself

There were, he says, three people in the marriage dominating New Labour: Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and 'The Third Man', Peter Mandelson. Before his autobiography goes on sale, Brian Brady examines the eponymous hero
Click to follow
Indy Politics

Perhaps the most famous line about Peter Mandelson is Tony's Blair's reflection on his controversial colleague: "We will know that Labour is truly New Labour when it has learnt to love Peter Mandelson."

He need not have worried. If the party – and the rest of us – fail in our duty to love him, then we can be confident that Baron Mandelson of Foy in the County of Herefordshire and of Hartlepool in the County of Durham will happily do it for us.

Whatever his protestations, Lord Mandelson has never knowingly undersold himself, underestimated his capabilities or undershot his ambitions. But, if the pre-publication publicity for his forthcoming memoirs, The Third Man, is anything to go by, he has excelled even himself this time.

Lord Mandelson can justifiably claim to have a place in British history, with a ringside seat during the development of one of the most dynamic and productive political partnerships of the postwar period, the turbulent relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Only, he now informs us, we had it all wrong. He was not an observer, but a participant during the Blair-Brown period. And we must stop calling it that.

"The era we have just been through was the sort of Blair-Brown-Mandelson era," Lord Mandelson said yesterday during a Times interview designed to prepare us for the serialisation of his book this week.

"The three of us – the famous so-called Three Musketeers, as the press called us at one time," Lord Mandelson, wistfully and perhaps a little dewy-eyed, recalled – "our relationship was an intense one. It was also a fantastically productive one and created New Labour after all."

For there were, it can now be confirmed, three people in the marriage that dominated the UK government for more than a decade. Tony, Gordon and the Third Man. Two of them became prime ministers, the third was far too important for any of that. (Although, of course, he could have done it if he'd really wanted: "I felt at the end of my term in office I had better and greater qualities to be a prime minister than I had at the beginning.")

Lord Mandelson's memoirs will clearly be the authentic voice of the man himself. If there is any trace of modesty within the hundreds of pages produced for HarperCollins, it will be entirely false. It will drip with self-deprecation, but carefully marshalled only to confirm his finer qualities.

To be fair to Lord Mandelson, he has endured almost a quarter-century in the public eye, being ferociously scrutinised. His cataclysmic resignations from the Cabinet, his dalliances with the rich and famous, and his fiercely protected private life, have been picked over relentlessly. Perhaps it is finally time for him to get in on the act. After all, self-regard is an area in which he already excels.

So eager has he been to get his side of the story into the public domain that Lord Mandelson has been prepared to risk the wrath of his close friend Mr Blair, who feared a "salacious" autobiography would overshadow his own memoirs, due to be published in September.

But Lord Mandelson is motivated by influences far more noble than those driving his former boss. He, at least, has the party's interests at heart. "I think whoever is elected [as Labour leader] will prefer to be able to draw lessons from my book while thinking about the future," he explained yesterday, "rather than face having my book published after he's become leader and being dragged back into the past."

This is a man who a long time ago began to describe himself as "exotic". A Labour man who ostentatiously enjoyed the finer things in life and talked of his party being "intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich". Accordingly, Lord Mandelson has famously been criticised for his relationships with people including the financier Nat Rothschild and the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. The People's Party grandee cannot see the problem. "Do you know what I say to that?" he said yesterday. "Good for me. I mean, I'm not going to be governed by Labour Party political correctness about who I should meet or talk to or where I should spend my time. I am drawn towards people who are interesting, who are achievers, who are dynamic." And in case anyone wonders how he survived as MP for Hartlepool: "I can also mix with and perfectly happily exist with people who are not like that."

Yet for such an exotic, feline character, Lord Mandelson can be remarkably sensitive about how he's perceived – and, yesterday, he casually told The Times he never read the papers.

No matter, the papers he will pretend not to read over the next few days will be full of how Lord Mandelson played a central role in creating New Labour and keeping it on course, and how he kept the peace between Brown and Blair to his great personal cost. "Do I wish they had perhaps behaved to me, and treated me, differently?" he asked "Yes. I would have preferred that of course, and I would not have paid the price in my ministerial career. But politics is not always as simple as that."

Politics indeed. We leave Lord Mandelson lamenting his pending unemployment from the comfort of his £2.4m home, insisting he would serve in a future Labour government, but leaving open the possibility of helping David Cameron. ("The Prime Minister? What would he do with me?" )

He will, one suspects, find a way to get by.

The evil prince

Lord Mandelson strikes an unlikely pose as a storyteller in a television advertisement for his book, The Third Man, as the former spin-doctor attempts to present his story of New Labour as a fairytale – with him as the evil prince.

In a smoking-jacket and cravat, he sits in a leather chair with the book on his lap. The history of New Labour is like a "fairytale", he suggests, in which Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are rival kings.

In true storyteller's tradition, Lord Mandelson begins:

"Once upon a time there was a kingdom and for many years it was ruled by two powerful kings. But they wouldn't have been in power without a third man. They called him the Prince of Darkness," he says, adding with a smirk: "Don't know why."

Details that have emerged suggest the memoirs will be a mix of serious politics, gossip, anecdotes and score-settling.

Mandelson in his own words

"He kept saying to me, 'Why are we doing this to each other? We've killed each other. It's no fun.'"

Mandelson on Gordon Brown

"He had to spend too much of his time and devote too much of his energy dealing with this insurgency from next door."

On Tony Blair

"I felt at the end of my term in office I had better and greater qualities to be a prime minister than I had at the beginning."

On himself

"Amicable, jolly ... a rather patrician Tory. He has no ideology, but he does have views, attitudes and prejudices."

On David Cameron

"I don't hate Ed Balls. He is a person of strong views, tough analysis and he has a forceful personality."

On Ed Balls

"I won't endorse David Miliband. I've said... that I won't endorse a [leadership] candidate."

On David Miliband

"I've never been uncomfortable about my sexuality [or] about any relationship that I've had throughout my life."

On his sexuality

"I'm very protective of the people in my life who are not... in the public domain."

On his partner, Reinaldo

"Our relationship was fantastically productive and created New Labour after all."

On the 'Three Musketeers'

"Do I wish they had perhaps behaved to me and treated me differently? Yes."

On life with Tony and Gordon

"Whoever is elected will prefer to be able to draw lessons from my book while thinking about the future."

On the Labour leadership