Matthew Norman: Bring back Westminster's Barbra Streisand

The public may not love Mandy, but they respect his intellect, trust his judgment and know him as the last Labour superheavyweight in either House

Share
Related Topics

He came and he gave without taking, as Barry Manilow presciently put it, but is it possible that Oh Mandy could come once more? More than possible, indeed, is it essential to Ed Miliband's chances of surviving as Labour leader for more than a couple of years, let alone of forming a government, that the noble Lord Mandelson rises from the dead once again?

Today, in what I hope proves the first of many positively final comeback appearances, the Barbra Streisand of Westminster is back where he belongs, centre stage, after last night's Hannah Rothschild documentary. Whether Little Ed caught the show may have depended on the new baby's sleeping habits. But you suspect that, despite having jettisoned Mandy with a single line during that endlessly thrilling leadership campaign, he had a glance.

If so, he'll have seen nothing new. There is nothing new to see, after all, in the most beguiling operator of this political age, or any in memory. We know Mandy so well in every regard, from the vanity and roguishness to the fiendishly acute mind churning beneath the self-parodic, camp façade. Ed Miliband knows him better than most, personally and professionally, strengths and weaknesses, and if he doesn't have regrets about archly dismissing him with "we all believe in dignity in retirement", he is less smart than I assumed.

In an age when politics travels at warp speed, a new leader has little time to establish the persona that defines the leadership. Absurdly apocalyptic as this may sound, with Labour level or marginally ahead in the polls, the clock is close to beating Ed already. His legitimacy is questioned by both factions heading inexorably for a civil war to make the Tory one over Europe look like an arcane procedural squabble about parking regulations in the transport ministry of Camberwick Green. All that binds Blairites and Brownites is the shared belief that Ed is callow, shallow, directionless and not properly elected, and that he can be taken out before the next election.

Ed Balls cannot disguise his contempt, understandably given the brutality with which the new leader ostracised him at Home Affairs, while the loyalty of his missus Yvette Cooper is also, to put it gently, in doubt. His shadow Chancellor Alan Johnson, although the right choice as the least hideous option on offer, is proving an ineffective match up against George Osborne, and appears to regard himself as a freelance operative. And then there is some unfinished family business. By anonymously briefing that he isn't quite done with his own leadership hopes, David Miliband makes his ambition to settle a fraternal score almost as naked as the human forms in that painting in his Primrose Hill sitting room.

Harold Wilson survived as leader in a wickedly disunited Labour party, but by cunningly setting his enemies against each other; not by giving them common cause against him. If Ed doesn't exert some control over the uncivil warriors ranged against him, he will either be bled to death slowly or quickly assassinated.

What he needs at his side, right now, is a mixture of consigliere, media manager, tactician, strategist, elder statesman and enforcer, and only one figure fits that varied bill. Mandy, ever the tribal loyalist, is up for it, as his reflections on a "sense of bereavement" at leaving the centre of political life make plain.

The downsides to recalling him, even in a nebulous backroom role, are immense. It would inflame that clanking pair of Balls to an incandescence that could melt diamond, render the "dignity in retirement" jibe childish posturing, ridicule Ed's ramblings about the "new generation", and unleash another avalanche of reflections on the Blair-Brown warfare and the Third Man's singular role in that.

However, Mr and Mrs Balls are quite combustible enough, thank you very much, as things are; the "dignity in retirement" remark was certainly childish posturing, of the kind leadership candidates happily repent once elected; the "new generation" was always cobblers (if Andy Burnham is a key member of that, it needs either heavy seasoning or scraping into the bin); and with the Ballses and Mili the Elder moving menacingly towards him from opposite directions, reflections on the Blair-Brown warfare aren't about to vanish. What summoning Mandy would do is superheat the noxious brew already bubbling away, and might even cauterize wounds that could become gangrenous if left untreated.

The other positives would be colossal. The public may not love Mandy, but they respect his intellect, trust his judgment, and know him as the last Labour superheavyweight in either House. He has handy experience of quashing coups against a vulnerable leader, while, as the aftermath of his meeting with Mr Osborne at Ms Rothschild's brother's Corfu home reminds us, he knows how to play with the Chancellor's head. He is indisputably a grownup, and in the primary school of fractious kids in which Little Ed is precariously head prefect, that is a priceless commodity. Besides, would you want him outside the tent pissing in?

At a definitive moment in political history, with the Coalition barely challenged as it sets about redefining the covenant between citizen and state in a manner unseen since the creation of welfare itself, the ship of opposition is steered solely by the undercurrents, its hopes of finding port resting on the Government hitting the rocks of economic turbulence and social unrest it may well avoid. In a sense, this is all fantasy politics. It would require a very big man, or a very desperate one, to swallow his pride and turn to someone he dismissed as a has-been a few months ago. Yet as Gordon Brown established when he unimaginably recalled Mandy from Brussels to save his hide, fantasy and reality can be interchangeable in the madhouse by the Thames.

If Little Ed isn't very big, he has compelling reason to be desperate. Six months after declaring his candidacy one fine May day, the moment comes to issue a Mayday distress call. Whether or not every Prime Minister needs a Willy, 21st century history teaches that every Labour leader requires a Mandy. High risk doesn't come close to hinting at the gamble in bringing him back - but far better to roll the dice now than go down with the ship, like Admiral Horatio D'Ascoygne in Kinds Hearts And Coronets, bravely saluting as the water laps over his face.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Learning Support Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: LSA's required! West Midlands

MLD Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: MLD teachers required West Midlands...

Media Studies Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are recruiting for a M...

History Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are looking fo...

Day In a Page

 

Careful, Mr Cameron. Don't flirt with us on tax

Chris Blackhurst
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices