The tale of a Minister quite without Employment

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The Independent Online
IN SOME Years pass'd I have writ, for the Reformation of Manners, the Advancement of Religion, and the universall Improvement of the human Race, some free Thoughts upon the present State of Affairs; whereas in other Years I have given, for the Benefitt of my faithfull Readers, an Almanack, or an Account of the great Events of the succeeding Year, in this Instance anno. 1999, as they will unfailingly come to pass, viz., that in the Month of JANUARY there is a Scandal concerning yet another Minister, altho' whether he is still in the Ministry at this Stage of Events I am in no Position to divulge at this Juncture, my optick Glasses having misted over at this point in my Investigations; that in the Month of MARCH Mr Treasurer Brown gives his Budget in the Commons-chamber and is prais'd on all Sides for his Wisdom and Moderation; that in APRIL there is a Collapse of the Currency and much Lamentation in the City of London; and that JUNE sees a Fitt of frosty Weather, which will last twelve Days. But, to say the Truth, this Exercise, though it may be a Diversion to the Reader, provideth her with no fresh Information which she cannot obtain herself from a Perusal of the publick Prints, a Use of optick Glasses, and a few simple Calculations, building on the Foundations laid down in Lebniz, his Fluxions, a most excellent Guide to the Movement of the Planets in their Courses. So accordingly this year I will put aside my own Glasses and Calculations and give the Reader instead some candid Thoughts upon the present State of Affairs: the Perusal of which will enable her, if I am not mistaken, and if I may so claim without giving undue Offence to Modesty, not only to hold her own but to cut a Figure in the best Antichambers in Town.

All the Talk is of Master Peter Mandelson, his Loan from Mr Secretary Geoffrey Robinson, and his great Fall; as to which all Manner of lofty Precedents are cited, in such a Number and of such an Authority as to satisfy my Lord Hoffmann himself, not to mention the Directions to Ministers (cf. the Directions to Servants from the Pen of my Cousin anno. 1730). At this Point, however, I will give an Example, deriv'd from my own personall Experience, of soliciting a Minister for a Loan of Money, to shew to the Satisfaction of all candid Persons that the Practice is by no means to the Discredit of either Party or both, when conducted by Men of high Principle and personall Honour.

'Twas anno. 1974 when I found myself in need of Apartments in Town but, for Reasons with which I will not detain the Reader at this Juncture, was without the wherewithal to compleat the Purchase in its Entirety. Casting around in my Mind for rich Friends or Acquaintances that might assist me in my Endeavours, I lighted upon two only: my Lord Gilmour (that used to be Owner of the Spectator-sheet) and Master Harold Lever, that was in his Time as high and mighty a Figure in the People's Party as Master Robinson is today (or, at any rate, was); altho' more fortunate in the Animadversions that were cast upon him in the Prints, both because he was a Person of the utmost Virtue (a Jew, from Manchester in Lancs.) and also because he had the good Fortune to live in an Age less given to making impertinent Inquiries with regard to Loans, Mistresses, &c., &c. than the Time in which we now live. Having weighed up the Merits of my Lord Gilmour (tho' he was then a Commoner still and not yet a Baronet, even) and Master Lever as a possible Benefactor, I threw in my Lot with Master Lever, altho' my precise Reasons for making the Choice I have now forgot, and call'd upon him in his great Apartments with gold-plate Taps in Eaton- square that is near to Sloane-square in London. Having listen'd to the Account of my Predicament with the greatest Civility and Attention, Mr Secretary Lever (for he held the Sinecure of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) gave his consider'd Opinion that Barclays Bank would gladly advance to me the Sum in question, which was some pounds 4,000, at the Rate of Interest prevailing at the Time, viz., of 17 per centum per annum. He also gave to me a Dish of Instant Coffee. As I was shewn to the Door by a Man-servant of Spanish Origin, the Minister said: "Remember, if you are ever in Trouble, do not hesitate to come and see me." For an Example of candid Friendship, this would be hard to better; and, in Truth, it must be a Cause for Regret on the Part of Master Tony Blair, Master Alastair Campbell and Master Mandelson himself that Master Robinson did not see fitt to conduct himself in such a sensible Manner in the Course of the recent Transactions.

I will now tell you something more of this Master Robinson. He married a Widow, which is generally a prudent Course of Action, or so I have been reliably inform'd. When Master Kinnock was a Figure in the Land or even before, when Master Robinson was not in le cabinet fantome (as that body is prettily dubbed by the French), but was a most obscure Member of the Commons-house, he and I would sometimes take a Glass of Refreshment in Annie's Bar in the Bowels of the Palace of Westminster. Within these gloomy Precincts I would wonder how it came to be that a Person of his Attainments, that had been given the Charge of Jaguar in Warwicks. and Innocenti in Italy, should be quite without Employment of any kind soever; tho' I refrain'd from making the Observation with too much Directness for fear of causing Offence, which it hath ever been my Purpose to avoid. He, for his Part, was less tied down by the silken Cords of a nice Civility, and would inquire, with Candour: "What are you doing wasting your Time in this Place?"

Master Mandelson is the Possessor of a very different Style of Discourse; altho' he likewise is not averse to being the Cause of a certain Unease in those who are in the fortunate Position of being his Auditors. Shortly before he was given Employment as Minister without Portfolio, anno. 1997, we had a Meeting at some great Gathering, where he volunteered the Observation: "At this Point in your Career, your Problem is..." Whereupon he espied in the middle Distance, or his Attention was distracted by, a more important Personage or, at the least, some Person that might prove of greater Utility to him in the Advancement of his Scheams and Designs of the Moment; with the Consequence that I never (nor have I to this Day) discover'd what my Problem was at that Point in my Career, so-call'd; which I count as a Deprivation. Those Readers that are puzzl'd by my Need of pounds 4,000 anno. 1974 and Master Mandelson's of pounds 373,000 anno. 1996 may care to reflect on two Matters. The first of these is that I was seeking an Apartment in Islington in North-London that cost pounds 13,000 but would fetch more today; or so I am inform'd, having remov'd in the mean Time to more commodious Premises in the same Borough; whereas Master Mandelson, at the same Age as I had attain'd at that Time, was attempting to effect the Purchase of an intire House in Notting Hill-gate; in which, to be truthful, I see no Trace of a Disposition to Corruption or of a love of Luxury. Secondly, the Reader may reflect on the Debasement of the Currency brought about by Mr Secretary Heath, Master H. Wilson and Master Jas. Callaghan, in which Master Mandelson, for all his Faults, hath no part of the Blame.