I think it's fitting that Mandelson chose a movie title for his memoirs. The obvious question is should we classify this as fiction or non-fiction? Well, considering it's (allegedly) written by Peter Mandelson himself, spin doctor extraordinaire, media puppeteer, master of the thinly veiled 'euphemism,' stylish soundbite and cashmered quip... perhaps you should draw your own conclusions as to its veracity. What Mandelson is basically expecting you to do, on reading these memoirs, is a charming exercise in appropriately Orwellian doublethink. You must accept that the public presentation of the New Labour years, which Mandelson engineered largely by himself, was utter twaddle, and that these diaried accounts are now the unvarnished truth. I don't know if anyone recently saw a picture in the news, apparently taken in the Florida Everglades - it showed a dead python which had attempted to swallow a giant alligator, but had burst in the attempt. Swallowing the gospel according to St. Peter may have the same effect.
There's a part of me that thinks this volume should have been supplied wrapped in yesterday's newsprint and sprinkled with more than a pinch of salt. Fishy? Undoubtedly. And Mandelson kindly supplies the vinegar himself. Each chapter is seasoned liberally with a good dose of carefully crafted bile, with pithy reflections on former colleagues that are no doubt intended to seem like throwaway remarks, but nothing about Mandelson is casual. You just know that every barb and thrust has been painstakingly selected for maximum impact. I must admit that he does have an entertaining flair for the dramatic - it's perhaps a shame that he didn't pursue a career on the stage instead of public office. The role of pantomime villain does seem to be one that, if not actively courting, he has certainly rather relished. Yet some of the more farcical episodes in his career, which he freely discusses, smack more of Widow Twankey than Voldemort.
He's an easy figure for the potshots, but given his enormous influence on British politics it would be foolish not to take him seriously. The real wonder, for me, which is never properly examined in Mandy's account, is *how* exactly he managed to become such a pivotal figure in the circus. How he managed to set himself up as such an invaluable linch-pin. That's more an issue for independent observers, I suppose. He's not giving away his secrets, and whatever else you think of Mandelson the man, you do have to grudgingly marvel at his sheer tenacity and capacity for political reinvention. However, you're also left scratching your head in wonderment that so many people could be quite so naive for so long. Were we all really so gullible? Or was it more that times were good and it didn't really matter what tripe was trotted out by the resident band of power-crazed professional liars in government? Who knows.
Is Mandelson's revisionist history worth forking out for? Well, if you're a diehard political nerd (like me!) then you'll want this for your collection, regardless of its content or value. If you're not a nerd, but still believe in things like natural justice and the tooth fairy, then you may even read this and close it contentedly, feeling like you've finally heard the truth. For everyone else, I'm not sure the so-called revelations justify the purchase price. It's undeniably interesting to read events from Mandelson's perspective, in particular his relationship with Blair, but to be honest, the prose itself can be leaden and rather pedestrian, and you may find yourself skimming portions, waiting for the next injection of cattiness. And if you're of a rather cynical bent (come sit by me), then you may find yourself flinging the volume at the wall on occasion as St. Peter, the ever-so-sincere and blameless, brings on another bout of cognitive dissonance. Or acid indigestion.
To be fair, I think The Third Man will really come into its own when it can be properly compared to Campbell's new offering, and Blair's own account. That should be quite fun. Watching the unholy trifecta of hoodwinkers attempting to untwist their collective knickers and present clean slates may actually reveal some of the true story.
Hope this doesn't sound all too repulsively cynical for words - I guess I should add that I don't think Mandelson is any worse than your average self-serving public servant, and at least he's cut a colourful figure on the scene amid the usual band of grey Whitehall suits. It's the same old story whoever's in power, really, isn't it? The same propaganda, same soundbites, same charade that any of them have any greater concern than their own hides. Maybe the best we can hope for is to get a little entertainment from the spectacle while they rip us off.