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Media spotlight: The Third Man

By Peter Mandelson

If arch Labour spinner Peter Mandelson’s memoirs are to be believed former Prime Minister Gordon Brown is a profane and short-tempered liar.
After deciding against calling a general election in 2007 Brown was asked point blank in Parliament by Conservative leader David Cameron if he would have failed to call an election if Labour had a 10-point lead in the polls. “Yes,” came the emphatic reply.

But when talking about the reason he failed to call an election Brown apparently told Mandelson he was nervous about the Tories’ rise in the polls. If this is true Brown’s statement was an outrageous lie and Mandelson’s book provides evidence of wanton deceit.

Other revelations include Brown ranting about how his “f*****g chancellor” Alistair Darling had given too honest an assessment of the UK’s economy in 2008 when he said the state it was in represented the worst crisis for 60 years.

It’s not particularly surprising that the PM occasionally swears or is sometimes angry at his chancellor but what is surprising is Brown’s consistent abuse and the short fuse laid bare in this book.

On their infamous Corfu holiday in 2008 then Tory shadow chancellor George Osborne told Mandelson that when Brown was chancellor he used to blank him when they met, refuse to give him advance copies of Treasury information and hang up on him when he telephoned.

Although it has been widely reported that Brown was difficult to work with it’s still shocking to read how bad things were. In this way, Brown looms over this book as he did the New Labour era.

But the book is Mandelson’s story and it’s well written, compelling and honest.

He takes credit for reforming a Labour Party that was chronically divided and unrealistic in the 1980s. With Tony Blair and Brown, Mandelson helped to drag a stubborn party into the modern era. And yes, that includes what is now called spin.

The Tories had long been using advertising and PR techniques to convey its message and Labour was shambolic by comparison.
With a vitriolic anti-Labour national press Mandelson did a great job of spinning positive Labour stories.

That said, he can sometimes lose perspective. Some of the achievements he seems most proud of are vacuous, such as changing the colour of official folders from red to a salmon pink and the Labour logo from a red flag to a voter-friendly red rose.

The Brown-Blair rivalry has been widely reported, both at the time and during the serialisation of these memoirs. It was fierce and driven byinsane jealousy on Brown’s part because he didn’t get the top job in 1994.

Mandelson sided with Blair and Brown blamed the former for scheming against him.

From 1994 to 2007 Brown and Blair’s relationship deteriorated and became almost unworkable. But somehow they kept the government afloat despite Brown’s efforts to remove Blair. And even when Brown finally became PM the pair still spoke regularly.

But this book isn’t about policy – Mandelson doesn’t care much for that. He loves the game more than the result.

For all their faults Brown and Blair cared about what they did, and it’s this more than anything that makes Mandelson very much the third man.

book review by samuel dale



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