Robin Brown

Journo. Editor. Tutor. Dour northerner.

Archive for the ‘peter mandelson’ tag

Calling Peter Mandelson a liar

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Peter Mandelson says he regrets saying that the Labour party was ‘intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich’.

From The Grauniad:

Lord Mandelson has admitted he is no longer “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes”, given rising inequality and stagnating middle-class incomes brought about by the damaging downsides of globalisation.

Almost a decade and a half after making the remarks, which were seen as characterising the Labour government’s embrace of free markets and the City, Mandelson said he was “much more concerned” about inequality than when he made first made his comments to a US industrialist in California in 1998.

This isn’t, in itself, especially interesting beyond one of New Labour’s key architects admitting he got something wrong, which is fairly rare.

What’s interesting to me is that I interviewed Mandelson in 1998 and quizzed him about the wisdom of those remarks while representing Hartlepool – a depressed post-industrial north-east town with high unemployment and low ‘filthy rich’ rates – as MP (the full story is here).

Unsurprisingly he bridled at the question – and then denied flat out that he’d said it. I knew that he’d almost certainly said it, so I asked for a clarification. “You’ve never said that?”.

“No. Next question.”

These were the days before the internet was much use as a research tool, so I’d trawled newspapers archives and stacks of various political mags to find some interesting questions to ask Mandelson – I’d seen the quote referred to a few times but couldn’t trace where it had first been used or who had first reported it, despite talking to a reporter who’d written it (he’s copied it form another report), so it remained – like the mushy pea story – something that was probably true but plausibly deniable.

Mandelson remains the single most unpleasant interviewee – and one of the more unpleasant people – I’ve ever met and he appeared to take great delight in trying to rough up and obstruct a student reporter simply because they’d nailed him with one of his own dim-witted remarks.

So I take some small measure of satisfaction, the best part of 15 years later, to call Peter – now Lord – Mandelson, in this one regard, a liar (I still have the tapes).

That politicans tell lies and, let’s be honest, wholly inconsequential ones at that, is not headline news either. But on behalf of my 19-year-old self I’d just like to call Peter out on that lie – and for being a total dick.

Written by Robin Brown

January 26th, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Journalism,People

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The first real casualty of the election is… Sky

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Seriously, what is it with Sky at the moment? While the press has, on the whole, thrown a bit of a wobbler because it didn’t get its own way over Cameron during this election, the broadcast media – Sky specifically – has suffered something akin to a nervous breakdown.

I think this is a crisis of confidence and direction on the Beeb, ITN and Sky, as they increasingly search for lines that are engaging to viewers yet don’t break any rules over impartiality.

As I’ve outlined before, I don’t believe the media really has an idea of how to do political reporting anymore, unless it can find hooks that it believes it needs to maintain the interest of the idiot population.

As has been evident throughout, the UK’s population has been far from passive – or idiotic – in the election; with Twitter protests, protests against the media and protests against Sky specifically, following Kay Burley’s bizarre outburst against David Babbs for daring to engage in his democratic right to protest.

For my money, Burley is simply an idiot who has no place anywhere near political reporting, and I don’t have much time for Adam Boulton either.

However, Boulton does have the right pedigree and seems to be generally respected as a political correspondent – until today.

Boulton absolutely lost it in an interview with Alastair Campbell today, who gently teased Boulton in the way that only he and Peter Mandelson truly can, over Boulton being secretly angry that Cameron may find his anointed path to Number 10 blocked by a brilliant bit of political chicanery by Gordon Brown.

Campbell is voicing what has been whispered less and stated openly more and more during the election campaign – that Sky’s coverage has been less than impartial.

Perhaps that’s what touched a nerve with Boulton, though I personally have found Nick Robinson’s punditry more and more intriguing during the election. Campbell was again present in a live round table – with David Steel, Huw Edwards and Andrew Adonis – responding to the news of Brown’s resignation hit the airwaves today and, again, seemed to fluster Robinson.

So, what is it? The media suddenly angry that their previously-unchallenged position as interlocutors is threatened by social media and pressure groups? Or the cracks showing in the political dead bat of political correspondents as the situation becomes more volatile? Or is it evidence that some in the broadcast media, Sky specifically, are testing the waters of the UK’s objectivity rules, perhaps in preparation for a more Fox News-like controversial stance on politics?

I’m not sure. I do sense that Sky may attempt a more entertainment-news approach in the future that may test the barriers of what Ofcom deems acceptable. And I do sense that a few correspondents, Boulton most obviously, have found it hard to disguise their true feelings.

But I suspect it’s more a case of political correspondents finding it tough to keep up with the twists and turns of a genuinely incredible campaign, and trying to keep pace with social media, in tandem with the demands of 24-hour rolling news.

So, Sky cracks first. And maybe there’s not a grand conspiracy to get Cameron into Number 10, maybe it’s just a case of folding under the pressure. Boulon certainly seems to be feeling it at the moment

Apart from the shrieking Burley. I think, more prosaically, she’s a fool.

NB. Seems Boulton nearly lost it again with Ben Bradshaw

EDITED TO ADD:

Journalism.co.uk has a good account of Campbell’s run-in with Boulton, which makes the Sky correspondent’s behaviour seem even more bizarre. This bit is particularly good:

ADAM BOULTON:
Why hasn’t he had a Cabinet meeting before making this offer?
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
He is about to have a Cabinet meeting now.
ADAM BOULTON:
Yes, but now he has made the offer, what can the Cabinet do, why haven’t you had a meeting with the parliamentary Labour party like the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives have had?
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
He’s having one tomorrow, he’s having one tomorrow.
JEREMY THOMPSON:
Gentlemen, gentlemen.
ADAM BOULTON:
In other words it’s you, totally unelected have plotted this with …
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Me?
ADAM BOULTON:
Yes. You are happiest speaking about him …
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
That’s because the Ministers are going to a Cabinet meeting …
ADAM BOULTON:
He has got a parliamentary party, you’re the one that cooked it up, you’re the one that’s cooked it up with Peter Mandelson.
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
Oh my God, unbelievable. Adam, calm down.
JEREMY THOMPSON:
Gentlemen, gentlemen, let this debate carry on later. Let’s just remind you that Gordon Brown said a few minutes ago…
ADAM BOULTON:
I actually care about this country.
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:
You think I don’t care about it, you think I don’t care about it.
ADAM BOULTON:
I don’t think the evidence is there.

Campbell’s predictably amusing response, later posted on his blog:

Adam gets very touchy at any suggestion that he is anything other than an independent, hugely respected, totally impartial and very important journalist whose personal views never see the light of day, and who works for an organisation that is a superior form of public service than anything the BBC can deliver.

Learning To Love Peter: Mandelson And Me

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I’m fascinated by a lot of things that are, on the face of it, not especially pleasant things to be fascinated with. Nuclear power stations, Victorian industry, tinkering with oily car parts, horror films, archaeology in its many varied, dirty and predominantly boring shades and Peter Mandelson.

Most of these interests can probably be laid at the door of a creeping fustiness related to an early mid-life crisis, or a hangover from adolescence, but my thing for Mandelson goes back to when I first became interested in politics at the age of 15 or so.

Like most 15-year-olds I was a left-wing firebrand, but I mixed it with living in the post-industrial depressed Teesside town of Hartlepool and a heritage of steel-workers and coal miners to look back on. Heady stuff.

The juxtaposition of Hartlepool – a working-class town still strong aligned with the Labour Party, Daily Mirror and teenage pregnancies – with the slippery embodiment of the New Right of the Labour Party in Mandelson fascinated and appalled me.

So much so that I voted Liberal Democrat in 1997, despite being a card-carrying member of Labour. I wanted Labour to win, I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for Mandelson. This is the sort of thing, presumably, that Tony Blair was referring to when he enigmatically stated some time before the election that Labour would only ‘come of age’ when it ‘learned to love Peter’.

I’ve followed Mandelson’s career since I became politically aware, but especially so since I interviewed him in 1999 for the now-defunct Liverpool Student newspaper.

The interview went badly. I was callow, blunt and probably a little combative. I suspect Mandelson was expecting a fairly friendly ride but, having been bombarded with hostile questions relating to his sacking, failed bid to get on the NEC and had some rather silly quotes dug up by me and thrown in his face, he soon bristled at the line of questioning.

A studied boredom descended over Mandy, and he appeared to take great delight in batting back my questions with deliberately facile straight-bat responses and at least one flat-out lie, though he was visibly irritated on a few occasions.

Towards the end of the interview he went out of his way to be unpleasant and unhelpful. I was a rather confused. The line of questioning was harsh, but I was cordial and even attempted a parting joke.

Looking back it’s easy to see why Peter had been irritated by my attempt at an interview. We now know that Mandelson was shattered by his sacking from the DTI, a brief he’d coveted for some time, and was licking some not-inconsiderable wounds received from Gordon Brown, Geoffrey Robinson and Tony Blair.

Blair told Mandelson following the fall-out from the home loans affair to ‘go away and make some friends in the Labour Party’. Clearly he wasn’t heeding that advice on the day I spoke to him but he does seem to have made it up, eventually, with Brown.

Peter Mandelson

Mandelson’s efficacy in his early ministerial career was tough to judge, having been too short on both occasions to make much of an impact, though I never doubted his skills as a political operator.

His most recent resurrection as Business Secretary at the BIS and de facto Deputy PM has been notable because of its soaraway success.

His record in attracting business to the British car industry, which looked in danger of collapsing completely at the start of 2009, has been a vindication of his appointment and, to my eyes, the government’s policy of ploughing serious cash into the economy.

It’s tough to judge how much government money or loan guarantees have gone to car manufacturers including Toyota, Nissan, Honda, BMW and Jaguar Land Rover, but all have made significant long-term commitments to remaining in the country and producing more models in the UK, despite the fact that the UK is not necessarily the best place in Europe to build and export cars.

LDV went by the wayside, Ford is moving Transit production abroad in the future and Vauxhall’s future is still in the balance – but the automotive industry clearly sees the UK as a place to do business, and without the billions of Euros the German government has been merrily throwing around.

The UK’s scrappage scheme, for all its faults, has got the UK car industry going again and is likely to actually return a profit due to VAT receipts. Mandelson demanded the manufacturers taking part equalled the government’s investment of £1,000 per purchase, and OEMs, the supply chain, the economy and Treasury have benefited as a result.

On the Labour Party front, Mandelson has become something of a darling to a party reeling from poor polling and a hysterically hostile press.

He’s the only one who appears to be fighting for the party, he’s gained a sense of humour and people within the party are talking him as a potential next leader (though the fact he is no longer an MP could make it tricky).

It’s a fairly remarkable turnaround, and I’ve found myself begrudgingly reassessing my opinion of him. His rallying cry to the party – “If I can come back so can we” – is symptomatic of a man who appears to be the only one in the PLP who hasn’t given up the ghost. I particularly enjoyed the story that he marched up to a clique of News International types at a party and lambasted them as a ‘bunch of cunts’ following the Sun’s switch of loyalties.

Anyway here’s Mandelson, now Lord of course, revelling in his new-found popularity within the Labour Party in conversation with Andrew Rawnsley at a fringe meeting at the recent conference – showing his combative and humourous qualities.

It seems the Labour Party has come to love Peter, albeit after 15 years. And while I wouldn’t go that far, I do respect the guy and feel slightly guilty about giving him such a hard time all those years ago. Sorry Peter.

As for me, I learned a lot from our meeting. Most obviously to flatter, charm and bribe interviewees, but also that there is a game to be played in such meetings that can be more rewarding and much more enjoyable. Just watch Rawnsley.

The writing of the article, and some ruthless self-inflicted subbing that followed, also taught me a lot. The material I had to work with was barely useable but I built something useful out of it.

A journo on a national praised it as ‘masterful’, I received several hearty slaps on the back and a photostat adorned the wall of the downstairs toilet of the family home in Hartlepool for several years.

Paired with a superb cartoon by the brilliant Nick Watson it also looked the part. Arguably the interview and subsequent article were the catalysts that convinced me that I could make a career as a journalist.

I didn’t pursue politics in the end, but I kept an eye on Mandy’s progress. The irony of being employed to write about Mandelson in the car industry years later is not lost on me. Nor is the fact that if weren’t for that meeting ten years ago, it seems unlikely I’d be where I am now.

• My original interview with Mandelson is reprinted below

Learning to love Peter

There’s a story about Peter Mandelson in Hartlepool that everyone knows. It goes like this: The young moustachioed Peter is on one of his first strolls around the constituency with the media in tow. Spotting a fish and chip shop he ventures in and orders a large cod and chips. Spotting a bowl of green gunky stuff he then orders some guacamole. It is, of course, mushy peas.

Regardless of whether this happened, the story will follow Mandelson to his grave, along with the stories about that loan from Geoffrey. Word was that Peter had to go because it gave the excuse that John and Gordon needed to scupper him. Apparently Tony sees Peter as the next leader.

So what has Peter been doing these last six or seven months? “Is this the interview?” It is. A ‘well in that case’ look plays across his face. He’s been serving his constituents, and in many ways it’s as rewarding as being a cabinet minister (lucky for him).

So did he expect to be promoted in the reshuffle? No. Was he disappointed that he wasn’t? No. Another couple of questions in the same vein are met with the response: “That is not a matter for me but for the Prime Minister.” I half expect his to start inspecting his fingernails in studied boredom.

I had been keeping my next question for a more opportune moment, but anything which injects something into the proceedings as this point is welcome. I go for the jugular.

“Given that you ran for the NEC but you didn’t make it …”

“I was runner-up, though”

“While people like Ken Livingstone and Mark Seddon – left-wingers with a media profile not as high as yourself – did get elected. What do you think that says about Labour party membership?”

“What it says about Labour party membership is that you have to run for the NEC a few times before you get elected and they had and the voting membership in London is about the size of the rest of the country put together. If you’re a Londoner, which Ken Livingstone is and Mark Seddon is to all intents and purpose, then you begin with a head start.

Now, something about this strikes me as a little, well, false. For a start, what is Mandelson if not a Londoner to all intent and purpose? He was born there and has lived there for most of his life. Additionally, it is plainly not just Londoners who get elected to the NEC

It should be remembered that while he has undoubtedly achieved a lot over the years Mandelson has also had several noted failures. As Director of Communications he took Labour to two General Election defeats.

In 1997 Labour gained one per cent per cent more of the vote than the Tories did in 1992 – Mandelson did not win Labour the election, as is commonly said, the Tories did. On top of the NEC failure there’s the Millennium Dome fiasco and then the loan story.

“The fact is that I was the runner-up”, he repeats, perhaps a little plaintively. Runner-up eh?

To someone who didn’t know better it might suggest that Labour party membership does not favour the type of policies espoused by Mandelson, or indeed the man himself. The rebuke they delivered to Mandelson may have hurt the man as much as it delighted bearded lefties up and down the country.

I go for my star question.

“I’ve got a quote here which is attributed to you: ‘Labour is intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.’ Given that unemployment in Hartlepool is 13%…”

I don’t get any further.

“Where did you find that quote?”

Oh dear. “I read it in Red Pepper.”

Red Pepper is a left-wing magazine that is a little off-message. People like Noam Chomsky, Mike Mansfield QC and John Pilger write for it.

“Next Question.” I don’t say anything.

“I’m not going to comment on a quote just flung out by a hard-left magazine with a mighty great axe to grind like Red Pepper.”

“You didn’t say that then?”

“No. Next question.”

Now, I’m not going to let this slip as easily as I did at the time – he only denied it when I pushed him. Red Pepper would be liable for litigation if they couldn’t back that quote up – not something a small, independent magazine would risk. In fact, the writer assures me the quote came from a piece in The Guardian (24 December 1998).

Assuming that Mandelson did say that, it would be highly insensitive of an MP to come out with that when he represents a depressed post-industrial town. However it is a phrase that seems to say a lot about his political philosophy. His White Paper, while at the DTI, was ‘the most business-friendly document any Labour government has ever produced,’ he said in the Daily Telegraph. ‘Labour has dumped its interventionist past.’ Perhaps they are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich too.

“What do you think Labour has achieved in office?” This was meant to lead into another question, but he’s off.

Investment in schools, healthy, child benefit, minimum wage and so on. It seems a little rude to interrupt him when he’s eulogising so beautifully. But I do anyway.

“But some would say that waiting lists aren’t dropping as quickly as they are supposed to have by now …”

“No..but then that’s hardly surprising following 18 years of mismanagement of the NHS.”

Exasperated I change tack, I ask about the Mandelson/media relationship. They seem to me to have a very pronounced fascination with each other to me: I’ve read articles about Mandelson’s homosexuality, anti-semitism concerning his Jewish heritage, his aesthetic sensibilities (or lack of), his naivety over the whole ‘home-loan’ saga, his bedazzlement with the rich and famous, his friendship with several noted media whores. The media are completely entranced by him. And Mandelson’s downfall was met with the sound of a thousand copy-fillers cracking their fingers in delighted anticipation.

“Did you feel that you were hounded out of office by the media?”

“No”. Another blank look.

“I stand up for what I believe in, and that’s what politicians should do. I stand up for the party, against our detractors and those who would do us harm. Of course that’s brought me on to a collision course with some in the media, but they’ve got one political aim in mind and that’s to stop the Labour government being elected.”

“Why do you think the media are so fascinated with you?”

“I have no idea. I’m not interested. What I’m interested in is what I can do to help the Labour government.”

One last attempt …

“Where do you see yourself in a year’s time?”

“I see myself as MP for Hartlepool.”

“Not as a Cabinet Minister?”

“No. I don’t see myself in that sense at all. That is a matter for the Prime Minister.”

Foiled again. Time for one last question.

“There’s a rather entertaining story in Hartlepool about you. Apparently when you were out canvassing you went into a fish and chip shop…”

“It’s a myth.” He cuts in. It’s meant to end the interview on a light and amiable note. It fails, spectacularly badly.

“Can I take some photos?”

“No.”

“Well, thanks for talking to me. Good luck for the future.”

Mandelson fixes me with a peculiar look.

“Yep. See ya.” It was the way he said it, maybe you had to be there.

I’d put money on Mandelson being a Minister again by the end of the year. He’s too important to Blair and The Project to be cast aside to live out the rest of his political career in Hartlepool – something he hasn’t considered for a second, I’m sure.

The man inspires such polarity of emotions because he embodies so perfectly the rebirth of the Labour party. About the same time as Labour abandoned the Red Flag he shaved his ‘tache off – how symbolic can you get? Blair is the figurehead of new Labour but it would never have got off the ground without the man Mandy.

That testament to the gloss of New Labour – the Millenium Dome – is his brainchild, his tenure at the DTI represents everything New Labour thinks about business – it must be appeased. He is New Labour.

His downfall was a result of his desire to live like so many of his friends do – he hobnobs with the rich and famous, but he is only one half of the equation himself – too famous and not rich enough by half to mix it with the Big Boys, maybe that’s an apt analogy for New Labour too.

A lot of people hate Peter Mandelson. A lot of people like him a lot – luckily the Prime Minister is one of them.

“Labour will only come of age when it learns to love Peters” says Tony Blair. I’ve no idea what that means and I’m not sure that Tony Blair does. I’d ask the man himself but even if he knew I’m sure he wouldn’t tell me. After all, that would be a matter for the Prime Minister …

• Mandelson image by World Economic Forum via Creative Commons

Written by Robin Brown

October 12th, 2009 at 6:52 pm