Peter Mandelson’s appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival was a late addition to this year’s programme. The event soon sold out and provided Mandelson an opportunity to further publicise his book, “The Third Man”. The book hardly needs further publicity having been serialised in The Times and plastered throughout the media. More interestingly this appearance gave James Naughtie, host of BBC Radio 4â€™s Today programme, to delve deeper into the content of Mandelson’s memoir.
As you’d expect the discussion between Naughtie and Mandelson centred on the Brown and Blair “feud”. At times the exchanges were prickly, with Mandelson at one stage trying to turn the tables on his host. Fancy that from a politician! An early quote from The Third Man gave Mandelson an opportunity to say how “broken” he was before Gordon Brown brought him back in 2008. Mandelson was also eager to say how he “made a hell of a difference” and how the government was more “fun” after his return. This was one of many comments to elicit wry smiles from the audience.
- Mandelson spoke about how Gordon Brown had changed post 1994; becoming angrier and argumentative. He thought Brown’s confidantes should have defused him and not fuelled the fire. It’s clear Mandelson didn’t think these home truths were delivered and, under pressure, cited Ed Milliband as one of Brown’s inner circle who fanned the flames. Apparently Mandelson is good friends with Ed now and wanted their son to be called Peter. Daniel was the name finally chosen, but Mandelson still refers to the son as “DP”
- apparently intuition was Blair’s thing, which Brown lacked. Although Brown was the strategic thinker, perhaps the best in the Government. A great question asked why Blair so spectacularly misjudged the Iraq war if intuition was his thing. Mandelson’s reply was both slippery and nonsensical. First he turned the tables on those who opposed the war and labelled them as not supporting any conflict (i.e. would oppose any war) and stated he’d like to ask them what they would do in similar circumstances. Then he launched into a diatribe about the late Robin Cook, before hastily trying to force a new question. This provoked a lot of head shaking and murmuring disapproval
- Did Mandelson ever think Labour could win the 2010 General Election? “Not consistently”
- When asked why he didn’t see the furore over a ÂŁ373,000 loan from Geoffrey Robinson, which caused his first resignation Mandelson was at a loss to explain. The line of questioning revolved around how Mandelson could provide such clear and useful advice to all of his colleagues, but fail to take “his own medicine” when the roles were reversed.
- Was Blair always going to be the better prime minister? Again Mandelson’s political training kicked in as he sidestepped a direct answer, although I inferred it to be “yes”
- When asked whether Brown as chancellor had spent too much during the run-up to the financial crisis, he took the opportunity to talk about Brown’s handling of the econonomy post financial crisis. Apparently in the midst of a terrible financial blizzard Brown absolutely could not have “put the handbrake on”. After prompting by the audience member Mandelson briefly reverted back to the original question with a cryptic answer. I interpreted it as he thought Brown was less prudent than he himself would admit, but far more prudent than his critics would have you believe
- Mandelson spoke about his regret at the circumstances surrounding his first resignation, which meant he could not influence trade policy for many years of New Labour. He said the future must involve Britain at the forefront of new technology, specifically “the green industry” (we shouldn’t import the technology from Germany, Spain and Denmark)
- Mandelson wasn’t happy with the way Peter Watt was treated and he expressed his sorrow at the events leading to his resignation as Labour’s general secretary
- Mandelson would have loved to have been foreign secretary, but seemed less sure of his Prime Ministerial ambition. He stated how getting into the cabinet was his initial ambition, which he achieved. Mandelson stated he was “unfulfilled”, but that definitely does not mean he is a failure. Far from it.
- When asked if he’d follow Tony Blair by donating the proceeds of his book to charity, Mandelson said he wouldn’t because he couldn’t afford to! And while we were asked not to reach for the hankerchiefs he is an unemployed man after all. Mandelson did state that his loyalty to Labour meant he wanted to help financially, together with investing a lot of his time, to rebuilding the party. This would be his contribution.
- Mandelson seemed to doubt he would forge a career as a “national treasure” but was proud that his book was for the people and accessible by everyone, not just politicians. He took a swipe at the format of Alastair Campbell’s diaries and said that factual blow-by-blow accounts, would be written by historians and that definitely was not the aim of “The Third Man”
The “best question” of the evening picked Mandelson up, on his use of the word “Mandelsonian”. When asked whether he’d support its introduction into the English language, Mandelson looked genuinely ruffled. Though he was more sure about the definition: “subtle”, “strategic”, “hard-working” and “loyal”.
An interesting evening. And judging by the enormous queue to have Mandelson sign a copy of his The Third Man book, a profitable one too.