Peter Mandelson is suddenly the most powerful man in the country. Why did he decide to save Gordon Brown? And was he really old Labour all along?by Edward Docx / July 4, 2009 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2009 issue of Prospect Magazine
On 6th December, 30 years ago, on a dark and miserable night in south London, a few streets from where I am writing this, a young Peter Mandelson was elected as a Labour borough councillor to the world’s most insane local council—Lambeth. Representing Stockwell, the 26-year-old Mandelson found himself sitting on a Labour council led by a man called “Red Ted,” who was backed by a grim cast of Trotskyites and Bennites. Though few pause to consider it now, this was Mandelson’s first experience of real politics. It was winter 1979 and the Labour party was just about to forget about the British people altogether in favour of a long and enthusiastic tour of the hinterlands of lunacy and irrelevance. Mandelson was living in a tiny flat in Kennington. His bed—in the living room—folded into the wall.
On 17th February this year, Baron Mandelson of Foy and Hartlepool was attending a drinks reception at the Manhattan penthouse that is the official residence of the British consul-general in New York. The secretary of state for business, enterprise and reform was in America to talk up the British economy. The centrepiece was a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations. But, as he waited at the studios of CNBC during a busy day of interviews, Mandelson overheard the chief executive of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, claiming that Britain was in “a downward spiral.” On screen Mandelson reacted robustly; later on though—at the party and in the presence of journalists—he let fly: “Why should I have this guy running down the country? Who the fuck is he?” he was overheard to say. Thus a mini-media storm was set in motion. And yet there was a further, more private, layer to the evening’s events. At some point, Mandelson took a moment to send a text to the young daughter of a close friend who was also in New York and with whom he had been in touch throughout his visit—a text to the effect that the evening was deeply tedious and that he wished they had gone to the Armani party instead as they had discussed. It was New York fashion week and he would much rather have been with David and Victoria.