The Prince of Darkness goes into print


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Ten years ago I sat nervously alongside Peter Mandelson, waiting to be interviewed by the Labour Party's National Executive Committee for the post of director of communications. My pitch was drawn from what I had seen working successfully in other countries. Parties of the centre- left that looked outward to society did well. Those that debated internalities were doomed.

I didn't get the job, thank goodness, because Peter Mandelson's period as Labour communications supremo brought together a person and a post to fuse in a way that is rare in British politics. Part of John Major's troubles stem from the fact that there is not a single member of the Cabinet or official in Conservative Central Office who looks happy doing his or her job.

Mandelson was always far more than a media guru. He was and will always be a 110 per cent pure-bred political animal. In the Seventies, he worked for the TUC, in the private office of a cabinet minister and was a Lambeth councillor - a triple training given to few MPs. In every sense, he is a politician more than he is a journalist, which is why the news that he is to take the ultimate political risk of bringing out a book is much to be welcomed.

Mandelson's problem is that his reputation lives on even while he seeks to shed his skin as a media guru. He gets the blame for every unattributed story - and there are far too many of those - that appears in the press about some new development in new Labour's policy evolution.

Dubbed the Prince of Darkness, he is anything but an eminence grise operating in the shadows of party policy making. Mandelson will debate in public with anyone, including Arthur Scargill. I recently listened to an interesting view of Labour's programme of government which he put forward in debate with Richard Burden MP at a meeting of Tribune MPs in the Commons. He pops up on television, writes for papers and never knowingly turns down an invitation to speak at the scores of networking gatherings in Labour's broad church.

Many Labour Party members may not like what he has to say, and many more resent (or are jealous of?) his closeness to Tony Blair, but he does not hide his views. Now they will be available in the most public - and attackable - manner of all, in a book.

The synopsis published in the Sunday papers has the feel of a come-on to hook a publisher and we shall have to see what the published version has to say. Will it be a new Crosland? Will it be as radical as the recent books from Andrew Marr or Will Hutton? At least it will be a whole book, pages and pages of it. Mandelsonism, if it exists, may step forward from being a black hole of supposedly secretive manipulation to the bright light of argument and policy. But if Peter Mandelson became just another politician, who would replace him as the new demon - whether of the left or right - that Labour has always appeared to need? Or is new Labour sufficiently adult to sleep at night and live by day without having to believe in its own bogeymen?

The writer is Labour MP for Rotherham.

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