Sound and fury, but little dynamite so far in the Mandelson memoirs

In April 2008, Lord Mandelson began gathering material for his memoirs. After trawling through his private papers, he was almost breathless with excitement as he told friends: "It's a goldmine. You can't imagine what I have found."

With his old foe Gordon Brown installed in Downing Street, the implication of his remarks was obvious: there was plenty of treasure that would damage the then Prime Minister.

At the time, Lord Mandelson was serving a five-year spell as Europe's Trade Commissioner, frustrated that there was little prospect of a global trade deal. He also judged there was no chance of him securing a second term in Brussels. To deny Mr Brown the satisfaction of sacking him, he sacked himself, blurting out in a radio interview (without forewarning his staff) that he did not want to stay on anyway.

What we have seen so far from the serialisation of the Mandelson memoirs and the accompanying hype, suggests that at least some of his treasure will remain buried. The script changed after a remarkable and unexpected reconciliation between Mr Brown and Lord Mandelson which ended with his surprise return to the Cabinet in October 2008 after the then Prime Minister pleaded: "Will you help me?"

A surprised Lord Mandelson said yes, and returned to his beloved Department for Business. He called this his "day job" but from day one spent much of his time in Downing Street, bringing some order to a dysfunctional machine. Mr Brown became even more dependent on him in June 2009 when James Purnell resigned from the Cabinet. If others had followed, Mr Brown would almost certainly have been forced out. But Lord Mandelson steadied the ship, and was rewarded with the formal title of First Secretary of State, and unofficial one of Deputy Prime Minister.

Why did he protect rather than knife Mr Brown? He made clear privately at the time that he believed so much blood would be spilled that, despite Mr Brown's unpopularity, removing him would not improve Labour's election prospects. Friends detected another reason: his Cabinet comeback was also designed to heal the wounds from the feud that began when he backed Tony Blair rather than Mr Brown for the Labour leadership on John Smith's death in 1994.

So the Prince of Darkness's memoirs might have been much darker for Mr Brown if he had not returned to become his consigliere.

Today’s extracts of TheThird Man in The Times reveal that senior cabinet ministers believed Labour was going to lose the May election – hardly a state secret. When Harriet Harman proposed three campaign themes last October – future, fairness and families – ministers added some F-words of their own. Labour was “fucked”, quipped Alistair Darling; the campaign was “futile”, said Douglas Alexander, while Lord Mandelson judged that Labour was “finished”.

Tony Blair believed there should have been a leadership challenge, telling Lord Mandelson last August that if the forces gathered to sweep Mr Brown away, he should not be the “one pillar keeping him upright”.

Yesterday's first extract of The Third Man in The Times anoints Nick Clegg as "the executioner" who forced Mr Brown to announce he would stand down as the price of a Lib-Lab coalition when the May election ended in stalemate. The only trouble is that this was a very public execution.

Lord Mandelson tells us, interestingly, that he did not want Mr Brown to leave Downing Street for the last time under the cover of darkness. But his disclosure that Mr Brown had "run out of patience" and resigned as Prime Minister while the Liberal Democrats and Tories were still stitching together a coalition is not new.

As I reported the following morning: "In a break with protocol, an impatient Mr Brown jumped the gun, taking Mr Cameron by surprise by travelling to the Palace to tender his resignation while formal talks between the Tories and Liberal Democrats on a coalition deal were still continuing."

Yesterday's first extract also went into great detail about the Lib-Lab coalition that never was. The real story is that there was never going to be one. No one had won the general election but it was obvious that Labour had lost it. Yet Mr Brown told Lord Mandelson that coming second was "not the final word" and drew up plans for a Lib-Lab cabinet. Many Labour MPs thought the party should go into opposition rather than patch together a rainbow alliance with the Liberal Democrats and smaller parties – without the necessary numbers for an overall majority. Lord Mandelson informs us that Mr Blair warned Mr Brown there would be "an outcry if we stay on".

Lord Mandelson's most perceptive remark so far is about Mr Cameron's decision to compromise on policy and seek a full-scale coalition with Mr Clegg rather than a looser arrangement for the Liberal Democrats to support the Tories in key Commons votes. He writes: "In the past, I had felt that Cameron was not bold enough about changing his party. But now he was acting boldly, and if he pulled off a deal with the Lib Dems the alliance would offer him a renewed prospect of delivering a changed perception of his party."

Although Lord Mandelson was "almost alone in our ranks in being impressed". he adds: "To me, it sounded like the new politics". Two months into the Lib-Con coalition, we now know Lord Mandelson was right.

Who said what to whom? Sore points at the heart of New Labour's memoir wars

Granita - what did Tony promise?

On 31 May 1994, as Labour geared up for a leadership election, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown dined in an Islington restaurant, Granita. There, Brown agreed to give Blair a clear run at the leadership. His people later claimed, off the record, that Blair promised in return to resign after 10 years, but that he broke his word in 2004. Alastair Campbell's diary suggests Brown drove "a hard bargain". Cherie Blair denied in her memoirs that there was ever a pact. Perhaps Blair's book will say more.

Who screwed up over the single currency?

In October 1997, Gordon Brown gave an interview which produced a headline that Labour ruled out joining the euro until 2001. That was the first Mandelson or Blair had heard of it. Even worse, Blair could not contact Brown and ended up seeking clarification from Charlie Whelan, who was on a mobile phone outside the Red Lion pub. Campbell accepted a share of the blame. "CW and I both believed we were doing what TB and GB wanted," he wrote. Mandelson and Blair may be less kind.

Whoever said Gordon was gay?

Because he was a bachelor, the then Chancellor was asked about his sexuality on Desert Island Discs. To put the rumour to rest, Charlie Whelan fed Brown's biographer, Paul Routledge, with a long list of past girlfriends, and later arranged a romantic photo shoot of Gordon dining with Sarah Macaulay, his future wife. But who started the rumour? Alastair Campbell's diary names two suspects, only to exonerate them: Mandelson and himself. Mandelson will doubtless concur.

Who was to blame for Peter's first downfall?

In December 1998, The Guardian learned Mandelson received a loan from the Treasury minister, Geoffrey Robinson, who was being investigated by Mandelson's Department of Trade. Both ministers resigned. Blair suspected Whelan leaked the story. Campbell wrote in his diary: "[Lord Falconer] said when he went to see Robinson, Ed Balls came in and went through what CF was sure was a charade of not knowing anything about it." Brownites have always denied involvement.

Was Tony guilty of stealing Gordon's budget?

In January 2000, during a Sunday morning interview on The Frost Programme, Tony Blair announced that spending on the NHS would be brought up to the European average. There was an immediate counter-briefing from the Treasury that this was no more than an "aspiration", after a furious Gordon Brown accused Mr Blair of "stealing" his budget. But Mr Blair repeated the promise, and got it into the 2001 election manifesto. There must have been a fine row, but no memoir has told the story.

How Gordon was nearly sacked in 2005

At the start of 2005, though an election was looming, Gordon Brown was hardly seen at Tony Blair's side. The former Health Secretary, Alan Milburn, no friend of Brown, was in charge of planning the election campaign. It later emerged that a plan had been drawn up for a "new Chancellor" to be told after the election that the power of the Treasury was to be reduced. But come the election, the old Blair-Brown double act was back together. Blair even bought the Chancellor an ice cream. Another story still to be told.

Those plots to force Tony to go

The most blatant attempt to depose Blair was in September 2006, when Brown's ally Tom Watson and others resigned from the Government, soon after a public tirade from the party treasurer, Jack Dromey – Harriet Harman's husband – about Blair's people soliciting secret loans for party funds. Was Gordon Brown orchestrating them? According to Peter Watt, then Labour's general secretary, Blair told him: "It's just Gordon. He can't stop himself. He always has to push, push, push."

Whose fault was bigotgate?

Peter Mandelson's memoirs make clear that you cannot blame him for the disaster in Rochdale, when Gordon Brown called Mrs Gillian Duffy a 'bigoted woman'. Lord Mandelson was elsewhere writing up a speech, though afterwards he dispensed advice on limiting the damage. He blames no one but Gordon. But Charlie Whelan says the disaster might not have happened if Lord Mandelson had allowed him, Charlie, on side to watch over Gordon.

Andy McSmith

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all