William Hague once joked in the House of Commons that the only title that Lord Mandelson lacked under the Brown Government was that of Archbishop. Perhaps the only reason for this is that Mandelson's "Jesuit like fervour" thus far has been generally been lavished on politics, although nothing should be ruled out. Love him or hate him Peter Mandelson is the consummate politician and media showman. Watching interviews by him in support of the book he is still playing down the level of visceral hatred that consumed the New Labour Project but for every one page of analysis in "The Third Man" there are at least another twenty which highlight the cronic dysfunction and the bitter tribalist soap opera that consumed British Government since 1997. Reading this book you sense clearly that Mandelson was at his "best" as the spinmiester starting work for Neil Kinnock, then as one of the architects of New Labour. He was of course at that time the man with the terrible moustache, not yet outed by Matthew Parris but the with a fearsome reputation building as a late 20th Century Machiavelli as he intimidated the media and other politicians but combined this with a sinister charm and waspish wit. His ability to think on his feet is clearly second to none, but it comes no where near to his plotting skills and you forget how closely he came in 2008 to destroying George Osborne in the Oleg Deripaska affair.
Of the two great protagonists in the "Third Man" allegedly Tony Blair is happy with Mandelson's portrayal. Yet it is far from sympathetic, indeed Blair is portrayed as a man bent on action but someone who was fundamentally weak when it came to dealing with Brown and his supporters. Blair's announcement of additional spending on health on the BBC led to a volcanic reaction from his Chancellor and a counter cabinet which constantly micro managed Blair's ambition on public services reform through the prism of the Treasury. On the other great drama Mandelson was a bit player when it came to the Iraq War and his insights about the failure to plan the rebuilding/recovery phase are of limited interest. But what is fascinating is that more than Blair it is Mandelson's relationship with his nemesis Gordon Brown that is at the heart of this book. Mandelson describes Brown as "hair-raisingly difficult to work with", almost "impossible to advise" and these are some of the friendlier comments. As such Mandelson's attempt to justify the greatest feat of political hatchet burying in modern politics is explained in the following terms "We had been through too much together since the founding days of the modernising avant-garde to relapse into sulkiness or acrimony. We had come to understand each other again. We respected each other. We liked each other.".
Do we believe him? The answer is of course we don't. Mandelson needed Brown in the same way that the Brown needed Mandelson, based not on friendship but pure political expediency, combined with the lustre of power and most of all the will to survive. Mandelson clearly knew that Brown's chances of winning a general election were almost zero. You smile when you read that in response to Harriet Harman's suggestion of "future, family and fairness" as the strap line for Labours campaign of 2010, Peter Mandelson suggested an alternative to a meeting with Alastair Darling and Douglas Alexander that they replace the words with "futile", "finished", and "f**k*d".
Everything about this book is controversial. Its title the "Third Man" sticks another two fingers up at his old enemy and newly enshrined fellow member of the Lords, John Prescott (or "Two Ermine's" as he is now known). Its timing after May 2010 is particularly raw and it comes "smack bang" into the epicentre of a incredibly dull Labour leadership contest which cannot hope to compete with the revelations of this supreme master media manipulator. It also acts as the overture for what will be the main opera when Tony Blair releases his own autobiography "A Journey" in September. Finally one imagines that over the past week a minor earthquake may have registered on the Richter scale in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath as Gordon Brown MP reads Mandelson's weighty tome. You suspect that while Mandelson may be the "Third Man" and that his story is well told (if sometimes in very cringeworthy terms) this is a three act drama that has yet to fully unfold and the political dagger that hangs over the New Labour project may yet to be fully drawn.
on 20 August 2010
I decided that I wanted to read an account of the New Labour years following the recent change in Government. After some debate, I decided to go for this book over the various other main contenders for a few reasons. Firstly, I didn't have the patience to wait for Blairs, secondly, I simply couldn't believe I would get any sort of frank account from one of the Alistair Campbell ones. Finally, I just had a gut feeling that this would be particularly honest and open in terms of the Blair/Brown relationship as I didn't see what motive Mr Mandelson would have for holding back, something not the case with the other authors I mentioned.
What a good decision this turned out to be. The account is very open, astonishingly so in places, and makes for an entertaining read, or should I say listen, as I actually had the audio CD version, which was if anything enhanced by Mandelson doing the reading.
As with any book, people need to read this and make up their own mind, but what really struck me about this was the sense that New Labour really never achieved what it promised due to the relationship between Blair/Brown, and I did sense genuine regret from Mandelson on this. Tony Blair actually comes across pretty well, but Gordon Brown comes across very poorly (if we are to believe this account and many others that support it). Mandelson provides strong evidence that for the first few years of power Mr Brown convinced himself he had been cheated out of the top job, which led to constant attempts to outmaneuver and undermine Blair, to the extent that it really did affect the success of New Labour. If there is one resounding conclusion you can draw from this, its that Blair should have had the decisiveness to address this issue firmly early on, but once this was left to ferment, it simply got worse and harder to deal with, which unfortunately it never was.
In summary, a frank account, which if you can look past a touch too much self justification, is a surprisingly honest and entertaining read, made even better if you go for the audio book route.
on 15 July 2010
Lord Voldermort, played in this novel by Peter Mandelson, takes over the muggle world and rules for 13 years before Harry Cameron's wizard and muggle coalition ousts him in a battle for control of the Ministry of Magic.
Ok - that is not what this book is about at all, but the self styled Dark Lord does manage to do the dirty on his former friends and blow the lid off the open secret about the breakdown and growing rivalry between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown during the New Labour years. Unsurprisingly, Tony Blair is reportedly livid at this expose, but perhaps moreso because the frank honesty here will dampen enthusiasm for his own political memoirs. Maybe Tony Blair is most annoyed that Mandelson beat him to it.
The book is well written, frank and attempts to be honest. It covers a whole lot more than the Tony/Gordon spats, starting earlier and ranging more widely. But it is also obviously (being a political memoir) heavily coloured by the experience and mind set of Peter Mandelson himself. The thrice disgraced politician styles himself as the Third Man in the New Labour marriage, and who can dispute that interpretation when Tony Blair and Gordon Brown felt it so important to keep landing him with plum jobs in Government at home and in Europe?
This book is self reflective too. Someone as politically astute as Peter Mandelson would be bound to write in a self effacing manner that ought to win over less cynical readers. More cynical ones might feel that he just wants to sell books and knows how not to annoy his readers.
But then it comes down to this: who buys these political memoirs? Who really cares? All the really salacious details are already appearing in newspapers, and do we really discover much about the man who is Peter Mandelson in this carefully crafted book?
I think the answer is yes - we do. A little. Also, even though so much of this book will appear in print elsewhere, it is an annoyingly addictive read. Annoying because we know that Mandelson is just out to make a quick buck. Better histories of New Labour will appear by less partisan political observers (although they will use this book as a primary source no doubt). But in some ways this story is almost as good as reading about the dark days of Lord Voldermort, even if - unlike Peter Mandelson - you will be cheering for Harry Cameron and Nick Weasley in the end.
After a brief Introduction, in which Mandelson blames a lot of his troubles on his loyalty to Brown and Blair, and lists the familiar claims of New Labour's achievements, there are background chapters on his early years as a member of a privileged left-wing family in North London. But the book takes off with his initiation into politics and the start of his controversial career as a highly successful backroom `fixer'. Right from the start, it is clear that Mandelson is out to stake his claim of parity with Brown and Blair in creating New Labour, defining its policies, and steering it to election victories. He emphasizes that that he `discovered' the duo and was the first to recognize their talents and potential for high office. The three of them became `brothers'. This didn't last long after New Labour gained power and we now know about the fierce and corrosive war that was waged between Blair and Brown, with Mandelson often in the latter's sights for his perceived `betrayal' in supporting Blair. This is discussed fully, but most of the details have already appeared in Andrew Rawnsley's recent book `The End of the Party'.
Given that the author was the supreme `spin doctor' of New Labour, a reader has to decide how much of this book to believe. Many details confirm what Rawnsley has reported, although Mandelson's version puts himself in the best light. However, there are places where he is disingenuous. For example: his strong denial that there was any connection between the peerage given to Lord Levy and the fact that he was Tony Blair's fundraiser, while admitting that Levy `held out for a peerage' after he was told it would be too soon; and his explanation of why he failed to disclose to either his senior civil servant or a building society a loan from Geoffrey Robinson to buy a house. There are new details about the about the final days of New Labour and events leading up to the 2010 General Election - how Brown refused to budge from his entrenched position that growth was the only way out of the severe economic problems and how he resisted all efforts from his colleagues to take seriously spending cuts or an increase in VAT - but this is a small part of the book.
Then there is what is not in the book. There is very little about foreign policy and Iraq, the event that, rightly or wrongly, will really be Blair's legacy, and no discussion of whether New Labour's economic and financial policies might have contributed to our present debt-ridden state. And of course there is almost nothing about Mandelson's closely guarded private life. To be fair, the sub-title of the book is `Life at the Heart of New Labour', but then why include chapters on his early family life, and why disclose very personal information about a former partner's sex life?
Overall, I found this a disappointing book that adds very little to what is already known about the New Labour years and the style lacks the sparkle of Rawnsley's book. The Labour Party may now `love Peter Mandelson', as Blair wanted and Mandelson believes, but it has not altered my view that the 'Prince of Darkness' has not changed.
on 27 July 2010
I'll be brief, as many of the previous reviewers have covered much of what I, too, would have written.
If nothing else, this book leaves you with the following impressions:
1. Mandelson thought Tony Blair walked on water.
2. Mandelson thought Gordon Brown was the anti-Christ.
3. Mandelson thinks he is greatest thing to have happened to politics since Cromwell.
The man is so up himself it's almost funny if it wasn't so tragic. If anything positive happened it was because of something he said or did. On the other hand, if something went wrong it was always someone else's fault. The 'loan' to buy a house? The Hinduja passport row? He was misunderstood and misrepresented in the press.
If you want a completely unbiased view of how 'New' Labour was born, grew up and then committed suicide, then don't read this book. If you want to learn how a conceited, vain, narcissistic little man wormed his way into politics and then Parliament, then borrow the book from someone and have a read (don't waste your money buying it, though, as you'll regret the percentage that will find its way into his bank account).
on 20 July 2010
Peter Mandleson's hastily published memoir of the rise and fall of New Labour has been seriously overhyped.
"The Third Man" is devoid of shocking, new revelations or truly wicked character assassinations. Mandelson indulges in no historical reflections or philosophical musings ; his book is empty of insights into either politics or human nature. It is written in undemanding, plain vanilla prose: readable enough, but not worth reading.
The Machiavelli of Millbank does little here to expose himself, unless occasionally unconsciously. The full story of New Labour remains to be told. Meanwhile, this book - long, expensive and lacking in substance - is a perfect metaphor for both its subject and its author.
Unlike the political memoirs that promise to tell all this book tells only what its author means it too, and thank goodness for it is already a long book for such a tale. Lord Mandelson is a Marmite man, and many (including many of my fellow reviewers) really dislike him. I have less of an opinion on the man than they. I find him witty but with that element of control that hints at more interesting views. But most of us will be unable to judge the balance of his story of the New Labour years and his part in them. It is a tale of three chums each with a weakness, a bargain that pleased none and the perpetual bickering and failure that followed from it. If it wasn't recounted in such detail it would be a good sketch for a Shakespearean play ("Three Unwise Gentlemen of Westminster", perhaps). But of course personal tragedy, with its interest in the many details of slights and reconciliations has to be recounted in detail if it is to be cathartic. Whether or not this is a true account I think it will overstay its welcome with all but the real political fan or election enthusiasts like me. However, I did enjoy it.
on 16 July 2010
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.
on 22 July 2010
After all the hype I expected a lot more. This is 566 pages widely spaced and large type of Mandelson telling you how excellent he is and how excellent Tony Blair is. A lot of it reads as bad advertising copy because it lacks credibility and lacks any semblance of objectivity. His glorious self assessment does not extend to Gordon Brown. This is amusing, but also reflects very badly on Mandelson. If this is really what he thought about Brown, he had absolutely no moral right to help keep all these defects secret and try to get the man re-elected for another 5 years.
The best bit which I found hilarious is the dedication that starts:
"To my parents, Mary and Tony, who gave me my values ..."
What an insult to them! However, it is all down hill from there. The book is subtitled on the cover with 'Life at the heart of new Labour' but a lot of the book tells the very tedious and wooden story of his childhood in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Does he imagine readers would be interested in the badly told minutia of his childhood or is he just filling pages to make the book appear thicker? He boasts about living in Bigwood which is one of the nicer streets in the very pleasant HGS.
I think reading "The End of the Party" by Andrew Rawnsley is a far better use of your time and Rawnsley knows how to write and keep the reader engaged. A skill that eludes Mandelson completely.
Reading this book it is clear that PM wants you to think has an extremely high opinion of his own ability. My thought was that if one of the leading lights of New Labour is this untalented and flawed imagine how bad the rest of them were.
In summary: Badly written self serving tripe.
on 16 July 2010
Whether you love him or loathe him, Peter Mandelson is always interesting. Yes, we knew a fair bit about Gordon and Tony's alarming carryings on already but here more wince-inducing detail is provided. The happy newly weds Cameron and Clegg should take note of what happens when a close political relationship turns sour. Despite providing us with new and alarming insights into New Labour, Mandelson quite cleverly avoids revealing too much about his own personal life which many readers will find disappointing.
Politics is a funny old business. On the one hand we're given a graphic account of the bitter infighting, hatred and mistrust rife within New Labour and on the other Mandelson describes working closely with Kenneth Clarke - his opposite number on the Conservative bench - to ease the transition of power in his department when Labour inevitably lost the election. Fascinating.
I must confess that I like Mandelson. Read this book and perhaps you too will lament his resignation from frontline politics, leaving us with the prospect of one of the bland Milibands leading Labour into the next election in 2015. Or you may dislike him even more. Either way, read the book.