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My mother rang me in a fury yesterday. She had heard Lord Mandelson being interviewed on the radio about No. 10’s dirty tricks, and had switched off in disgust. He was smoothly explaining that the reason so many people are angry about it is that Damien McBride was sending his emails at the taxpayer’s expense. The idea that there might be other aspects of McBride’s behaviour that bothered people, or indeed the strong whiff of a possibility that that behaviour was sanctioned by the man he most closely advised, is not officially on the noble Lord’s radar.

Now, it might simply be that he is in professional whitewash mode, like some Mafia “cleaner”: never really heard of McBride, he wasn’t that close to the PM anyway, he was working alone on this stuff and at public expense, loose cannon, maybe personal problems, strangles puppies as a hobby apparently, who let him in the building anyway? Airily belittle the substance of what went on and for God’s sake deflect attention from anyone else in the loop. Oh great, Tom, call the libel lawyers in, way to keep your head below the parapet. No-one’ll suspect you now.

But there might be another, simpler, reason why on this and other topics Lord Mandelson gives the impression, as my mother said, of being “up himself”. I recently saw Armando Iannucci give a Q&A, where he talked about Alistair Campbell not enjoying “In The Loop”. (“The Culture Show asked me to sit and watch it with him, but I couldn’t make it—I already had to be in Ireland that day. Later he spun this as ‘Iannucci was too scared to turn up’.”) Quite possibly, Iannucci said, Campbell couldn’t see the funny side because he’d seen it all before. And this is precisely where Lord Mandelson comes in, handing his coat to the person at the door without even looking at them: maybe he has seen all this before, and he’s struggling to see what the problem is.

He gives the impression that when circumstances dictate that he absolutely must pronounce on a situation, he is so aloof from it that he can’t fathom just what it is that the public are het up about. Workers angry at cheap labour imported at their expense? It’s the way of the EU, dear boy, don’t make a fuss. Revelations about Downing Street-sanctioned dirty tricks against opposition members and even some government ministers? I agree, it’s shocking—McBride should have been doing this on his own time. Nothing about the prostitute allegations, the outright targeting of an opposition frontbencher’s wife or the stuff about a female Tory MP that a “mystery caller” had already tried to punt to the tabloids without success seems to strike him as in any sense wrong, perhaps because to him it’s all just part of the process.

The disparity between his assuredness in person and his ability to screw up so royally in public might well be attributable to this attitude. His air of utter entitlement, at once beguiling and petrifying in the room, cannot simply be put down to the fact that he hangs out with astoundingly wealthy people who could afford to have you killed; rather, it appears that he feels invincible in the debating chamber because he knows that he is entirely right and he has the machinery of power on his side to prove it. If no-one else around him is clever enough to understand that then he will patiently take them round and round the track until they do—or until he can grease the wheel to make it all happen anyway, whichever is the sooner—but ultimately that’s a minor inconvenience, like questions about how much money he might have borrowed from a party donor to buy a nice house or the smear tactics used against the opposition or indeed his own party. These are nought but flies smeared on his windscreen, something for the little people to concern themselves with when next they wash his car.

Perhaps—for the sake of balance—this is not actually what he believes and it is the plight of those very little people that propels him, not the interests of his insanely rich and supra-legal associates. But that doesn’t seem to explain his apparent contradictions nearly as satisfactorily.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 20th, 2009 09:55 pm (UTC)
Last night I dreamed Mandelson had 'noticed my work' and took me for coffee in the canteen, where he said I should be 'working for the elite'. I woke up vaguely feeling I should start some kind of tribunal.
Apr. 21st, 2009 09:34 am (UTC)
The thought police will come for you shortly.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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