An Evening with Peter Mandelson
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 3rd December, 2008
‘Are you happy, Peter?’ Gordon Brown asked Lord Mandelson the other day. ‘If you are happy, then I am happy,’ the Prince of Darkness replied. Rather an odd exchange, one might think. But even odder was the fact that Peter Mandelson began his Hugo Young Lecture at Chatham House this evening with this anecdote. Some politicians effectively do self-deprecation. But Peter Mandelson flirts with an audience. Some of the ladies present, their heads perhaps lightened by a quickly-downed glass of wine at the pre-lecture reception, purred appreciatively. Several of the gentlemen scowled.
Mandelson’s subject was ‘Globalisation and the Crunch: What Lessons for Politics in Europe?’, a title that reflected not only the financial concerns of the day, but also the fact that the speaker was still European Commissioner for Trade when he was invited. One might have imagined that he would give a speech worthy of a European Commisioner, but not a bit of it. It was New Labour this and New Labour that; the Spin-meister is back with a vengeance. New Labour is not in favour of big government or small government (unlike the wicked Tories), the gist of what he said went. Instead, it is promoting ‘smart government’. He obviously cherishes this term — indeed, he may well have invented it himself — as he repeated it several times. ‘Smart government means using our existing resources better,’ he intoned.
Things perked up at question time. He was asked if EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso was correct when he declared the other day that several senior people in the British government were starting to think about euro membership once again. Out came the pat response that the government is still in favour of joining the euro at some stage, ‘but it’s not on the radar screen, and the radar screen is very crowded at present’. When my old Brussels colleague John Palmer pressed him on whether he thought that Gordon Brown’s famous five tests for Britain’s joining the euro had been met, Mandelson flatly refused to reply. Typical New Labour, unwilling to nail its Euro-colours to the mast.
Peter Preston, who was chairing, was obliged to gush the meeting’s thanks, and he said that Hugo Young would have savoured the presentation. I doubt it. It was so partisan that frankly, it stank.