Matthew Norman: Welcome home Lord Mandy

It might be Awakenings, with Gordon reviving the narcoleptics

Share
Related Topics

The photograph is so inherently, immutably surreal that, gazing upon it now, a part of me suspects one of those cunning paste-up jobs art directors contrive on Apple Macs. That or someone is wearing a latex mask, the impersonating device Tom Cruise used no more than a dozen times in Mission Impossible II. Or did some Downing Street wag sequester the dummy from the Madame Tussaud's storage depot for a jape?

On reflection, we can rule out the latter on the grounds that the person captioned as Peter Mandelson looks the spit of Peter Mandelson, and not Mike Tyson, Katie Boyle, Rin Tin Tin or television's hardest man Ross Kemp.

The other two theories are less glibly dismissed, because however long it has been since the news broke, however much one has read about it and however incontrovertible the fact, it remains a mental challenge to accept the stark visual evidence that here is the Baron Mandelson of Foy and Hartlepool sitting opposite Gordon Brown in a meeting of his Cabinet.

Accept it we must, of course, although for some it is harder than others. Indeed, yesterday's more frequently printed photograph, of an ermined Mandelson flanked by Lady Jay and Lord Falconer of Girth, provoked seething outrage from some who see his ennoblement as an historic low point for the honour and dignity of the upper chamber.

It is an argument, I suppose, although how an institution that welcomed that public relations cutie pie Tim Bell, an erstwhile cocaine abuser with a conviction for indecency (for masturbating at the window of his Hampstead bathroom in full view of passing au pair girls) – and with Margaret Thatcher herself as one of his sponsors – could have any new nadir to plumb escapes me for now.

These days the noble Lord Bell of Much-Tossing-Over-The-Heath's lavish client list includes the self-exiledBoris Berezovsky, while according to reports, Lord M has a Russian oligarch connection of his own.

His appearance on the yacht of aluminium billionaire Oleg Deripaska neatly combines with his generous Brussels pay-off to lend a translucent fig leaf of principle to a Vesuvial eruption of familiar loathing; not to mention homophobic ranting of a poisonous blatancy you naively assumed had long ago been driven underground by a sense of the passage of time, if not the dictates of common decency.

My God, though, isn't it great to have him back? I say this not only because he adds so incomparably to what his chief tormentor du jour, Richard Littlejohn, would call – with a hefty nudge and a Jim Davidson-esque wink – "the gaiety of the nation". It goes without saying that he is the most captivating character that Westminster has produced in generations, and that we who make a living offering two-bit opinions about British politics should be down on our knees (thank you, Richard, that'll do) with gratitude.

Few hacks have made more merry with him over the years than your columnist. I cannot express the pride I take from having given him his nickname, when according to the latest NOP poll, barely 97 per cent of five-year-olds have the innate wit required to think up "Mandy" for a playground colleague surnamed Mandelson.

The ensuing feud kept me busy for years. It ended a decade ago almost to the day when he invited himself to dinner shortly before his first and fully justified Cabinet sacking, and it would be dishonest not to state that I am fond of the old boy. ("I never break bread with them," as a lobby correspondent of the Twenties put it when asked if he socialised with his subjects. "It dilutes the purity of my hatred.")

More pertinent than personal feeling, surely, is this. No one sensible denies that this is a highly intelligent and extremely able ministerial presence in an era not notably overladen with those. I wouldn't wish to extend this comparison with the please-God future President, but the pettiness of the attacks on Mandelson this week are reminiscent of the laughable McCain-Palin smears against Barack Obama for occasionally attending the same educational meetings as William Ayers. This is simply too colossal a moment in history for dwelling on the trivial, you sense, and fixating on allegedly dodgyassociations diminishes the accuser more than the accused.

What matters is how effective his lordship will be as a Secretary of State for Business, as businesses, great and small, face what we assume will be their most intense survivalist struggle since that monstrous monetarist recession of the early 1980s.

If he is half as talented a pragmatist as his civil servants thought him during those sadly truncated stints at Trade and Industry and Northern Ireland – a post from which he was absurdly fired for no other reason than reputation – those still in work because of his efforts in a year's time may conclude thathe is welcome to his EU pension and House of Lords allowance, and even the odd glass of vintage Bolly on an oligarchic superyacht.

With Alastair Campbell and the other ageing beauties suddenly back in harness, the Blair Gang renaissance of which Mandelson's Cabinet post is the most startling manifestation has an oddly cinematic quality, even if it's too soon to have much clue which film is the template. It might be Awakenings, with Gordon reviving the narcoleptics for so poignantly short a while. Or possibly Cocoon, in which a bunch of political geriatrics are miraculously and permanently rejuvenated. It could be The Big Chill, where a group of mates are reunited by a funeral (albeit Gordon is off life support for now). Who knows, maybe it's the British college reunion movie Peter's Friends, with the petty jealousies and resentments of old varsity pals placed in perspective and partly resolved by the terminal condition of their host. As the psychodrama develops, all should become less opaque.

For now, all I can do is stare at that Cabinet Room snapshot, and – noticing a beaming Hazel Blears in the background – reflect that Peter Mandelson is a titan among pygmies at a time when baggage seems slightly less important than having seriously clever people doing what they can to dig us out of this economic cesspool. So welcome home, your lordship. Now get to work and make us proud.

React Now

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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before