British and European Politician
Peter Mandelson, otherwise known as the Prince of Darkness, Mandy, or starfucker (at least by Rupert Murdoch) was one of the architects of New Labour and the King of Spin. A former Secretary of State for Industry and for Northern Ireland he is now the European Commissioner for Trade.
Born Peter Benjamin Mandelson on the 21st October 1953, his grandfather was the former Labour cabinet minister and kingpin of London Herbert Morrison. He went to Hendon Grammar School, where according to at least one account he had his fellow pupils chanting "PM for PM", before attending St Catherine’s College, Oxford where he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics. After a brief fling with the Young Communist League, he worked as an economist for the Trades Union Congress and joined the Labour Party, being elected as a councillor for Lambeth Borough Council in 1979, but resigned in 1982 after becoming disillusioned with the party.
In 1982 he went to London Weekend Television where he worked as a producer primarily on Brian Walden's Weekend World. There he established what were later to prove to be a number of useful contacts with the media, including establishing a friendship with John Birt. In 1985 he was persuaded by the Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock to take on the role of the party's Director of Communications. There Mandelson joined with Kinnock in his attempts to rebrand the party and give it a more 'modern' image and began to establish his reputation as the master of political spin and when he first became known as the Prince of Darkness. But despite his best efforts, Labour duly lost the 1987 General Election and Mandelson later resigned as Director of Communications in 1990 when he was selected as the PPC for the safe seat of Hartlepool and at the General Election of 1992 was duly elected to the House of Commons.
That election resulted in yet another defeat for the Labour Party and the consequent resignation of Neil Kinnock as leader. Mandelson was never particularly favoured by John Smith, who replaced Kinnock as party leader, and he might well have been condemned to a life of comprarative obscurity as a backbench MP where it not for Smith's unexpected and untimely death in 1994. In the resulting leadership contest, Mandelson decided to back Tony Blair and is believed to have played a significant (if clandestine) role in ensuring Blair's eventual victory, and thus earning the enmity of Gordon Brown who had believed up until that time that Mandelson was one of his supporters. Following Blair's election he was appointed an Opposition whip in October 1994 and joined the shadow cabinet as the Civil Service spokesman in October 1995. He quit that post less than a year later in July 1996 in order to concentrate on his other job, as from the 5th January 1996 he had been the Labour Party's Election Campaign Manager. He became widely regarded as the architect of the election victory that returned the Labour Party to power after sixteen years on the 1st May 1997.
Naturally his role as Campaign Manager now came to an end, but he joined the Cabinet as Minister without Portfolio, with the formal responsibility for the co-ordination of government policy whilst informally being regarded as Blair's enforcer ensuring that his minsisters toed the New Labour line. He was also given the task of running the Millennium Dome project, a job that he was eager to do
since his grandfather Herbert Morrison responsible for the Festival of Britain of 1951. (Which he promised would "blow your socks off, although as it turned out most people's socks remained firmly on their feet). The next year he was appointed Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, where he was responsibile for the introduction of the National Minimum Wage and oversaw new measures to strengthen regional development, but lasted barely six months in office due to the scandal that was soon to overtake him.
The Robinson Loan Affair
As a member of Blair's inner circle and thus likely to play a central role in any new Labour government, Mandelson had made a number of new friends and appears to have been seduced by celebrity. Taken under the wing of socialite Carla Powell, he was provided with introductions to the likes of Sean Connery and Linda Wachner, being invited to the best dinner parties. Mandelson's then London residence was a rather modest flat in Clerkenwell which was not quite up to the standard required by his new social position. Thus in 1996 he acquired No. 9 Northumberland Place, a four storey Georgian terraced house in fashionable Notting Hill Gate at a cost of £475,000, with another £50,000 spent on a similarly fashionable and minimalist remodelling by the architect and designer Seth Stein. At the time there was a certain amount of speculation regarding how Mandelson had managed to afford such luxury. All was eventually to be revealed when the the Daily Mirror journalist Paul Routledge (who was was writing Mandelson's biography due to appear in January 1999) established that another Labour MP, the millionaire businessman Geoffrey Robinson had lent him £373,000 on an interest free basis.
Mandelson failed to declare this loan as an interest as he was required to do, but what was worse was that Geoffrey Robinson had himself been under attack since February 1998, when his links to the now disgraced businessman Robert Maxwell had been made public and was under investigation by the Department of Trade and Industry, the very ministry of which Mandelson was now heading. When it became apparent that these details were to be made public on the 22nd December 1998 in The Guardian and the Mirror, the government held a council of war. Blair's legal advisers, Charles Falconer and Derry Irvine considered the matter and decided that as Mandelson was not in direct control of the Robinson investigation there should be no problem. Thus Mandelson duly appeared on television to argue that "There is no conflict of interest so the question of resignation does not arise."
Unfortunately the press were universally hostile and pointed out that Mandelson had neglected to inform the Britannia Building Society (who had lent the rest of the money) that the £373,000 was a loan and not his own money, and was therefore at least technically guilty of deception. Thus on the 23rd December he was forced to sign a letter of resignation written by Alastair Campbell. The Sun trumpted its joy by publishing a picture of Mandelson emerging from a turkey's bottom under the headline 'Stuffed'. He was however consoled by Cherie Blair who invited him and his partner to Chequers and assure him that he would "always be part of the family".
Mandelson remained out of office for less than year, as on the 11th October 1999, he returned to government as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, taking over from Mo Mowlam. Adopting a high personal profile he overhauled the Northern Ireland police service, he negotiated the setting up of a power sharing government and helped persuade the IRA to announce their intention to put their arms beyond use. However it wasn't long however before scandal overtook him once more.
The Passports for cash affair
This time around he was accused of attempting to interfere in the passport applications made on behalf of the Hinduja brothers. The Hindujas were Indian businessman who had already come to the media's attention as a result of allegations that they had accepted a £6m bribe to arrange an arms deal between the Indian government and the Swedish arms firms Bofors. Through their Hindujan foundation had donated £1m to finance the 'Faith Zone' of the Millenium Dome, which was of course had earlier been Mandelson's pet project.
The Hinduja brothers wanted British passports and although the previous Conservative government had refused their applications, they had not given up on their quest. Gopichand Hinduja was issued a passport in November 1997 soon after Labour came to power and his brother Strichand re-applied in February 1998, at the same time as the Hindujas made their offer to help fund the Millenium Dome. Mandelson made a telephone call to Mike O'Brien, the Home office minister in charge of such matters, enquiring as to the progress of this application, and also passed on a written enquiry regarding the passport application of a third brother, Prakash Hinduja in May 2000.
The Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker began asking some awkward questions, and eventually the story broke in The Observer of the 21st January 2001 which naturally raised the question as to whether or not the donation to the Millenium Dome project was simply a quid pro quo for services about to be rendered. Mandelson initially appeared to deny that he had ever made any "direct contact" with anyone in the Home Office on behalf of the Hindujas, then retracted his denial claiming he'd been missunderstood. Within days he was required to sign a second resignation letter and left the government on the 24th January 2001. As The Guardian commented at the time, this appeared to be the end of his political career as even Jesus only came back from the dead once.
The Prime Minister ordered an enquiry, conducted by Anthony Hammond which duly reported on the 9th March 2001. The report's conclusions were somewhat ambivalent and essentially gave Mandelson the benefit of the doubt. Mandelson himself regarded this as a vindication, although others noted Hammond's inability to come to any definitive conclusion thanks to the lack of evidence.
Nevertheless he had no trouble in retaining his Hartlepool seat at the 2001 general election, despite a challenge from Arthur Scargill of the Socialist Labour Party, and triumphantly announced that "I am a fighter, not a quitter!" There were persistent rumours thereafter that Blair intended to reappoint his good friend to the Cabinet as and when the opportunity arose, but it seems that Blair was forced to abandon that idea due to strong objections raised by Gordon Brown and John Prescott. in June 2001 he joined the advertising agency, Clemmow Hornby Inge and despite his exclusion from government continued to act as an unofficial advisor to the Blairs helped them out in 2002 over the minor scandal that erupted when it emerged that they had used the services of a convicted fraudster named Peter Foster to help them in acquiring some flats in Bristol.
Blair was unable to do anything for his old friend until 2004 when he was put forward as Britain's choice as European Commisioner. Based on his track record William Hill began offering odds of 3/1 that he would not serve his full five year term, whilst Robert Kilroy-Silk MEP offered the opinion that the "appointment of Mandelson shows that the European Union is a gravy train for failed politicians" (and he should know). Blair defended his choice by claiming that Mandelson was "the best man for the job", but even some members of his own party accused him of "cronyism".
So far as European Commissioner the only hint of scandal that has emerged is the story that he spent one New Year as a guest on board the yacht of Paul Allen of Microsoft fame, at a time when that company was under investigation by the EU for alleged anti-competitive practices. Aside from hobnobbing with American millionaires Mandelson has been most notable for issuing a warning to China that it should curb cheap textile exports to the EU, and then on the 10th June 2005 announcing a deal that supposedly established a limit on exports of Chinese textiles. However by September it was evident the agreement had broken down when it became known that there were some 75 million garments held up in various seaports in excess of the previous agreed quotas. This gave rise to fears to an imminent Christmas bra and knicker shortage which were largely dispelled when it was discovered that clever retailers were already moving stocks through Hong Kong and thus evading the quota.
Peter Mandelson is of course homosexual/gay/queer (whatever is your preferred term) and once made into the top ten 'Hunks of the Year' as voted by the readers of HIM magazine, and is, on the authority of Peter Tatchell, apparently "regarded as highly fanciable by many gay professionals". His current partner is the Brazilian Reinaldo Avila da Silva, who has been described as an "erudite twentysomething from Rio who speaks seven languages".
Although the News of the World ran a story about Mandelson's love life back in 1987, generally speaking the question of Mandelson's sexuality was not much discussed in the media. Mandelson it appears, did not like to have his private life talked about. Indeed The Daily Telegraph once quoted an anonymous source as saying that "He is paranoid about his sexuality and doesn't know how to deal with it", and there was a time when it was said that John Birt, as Director General of the BBC, had personally ordered that the BBC make no mention of Mandelson's sexuality.
It was only when Matthew Parris, whilst commenting on the resignation of Ron Davies in 1998 after that unfortunate incident on Clapham Common, was asked how many other homsexual MPs there were, answered with the remark that "Peter Mandelson is certainly gay". A number of newspapers took this remark to mean that it was now 'open season' on Mandelson and ran a number of stories about him and his boyfriends past and present. But despite being homosexual Mandelson has never publicly endorsed any campaign for gay rights, and has "firmly but politely rebuffed" any requests for interviews by the gay media. This is regarded as a betrayal be many campaigners or it may just be that he regards his sexuality as irrelevant to his political life.
Tony Blair once said that his job in reforming the Labour Party would only be complete when the party had learned to love Mandelson. In which case one might reasonably conclude that Blair may well be forced to leave that particular task unfinished, for despite his reputation as the 'comeback king' of British politics he remains widely disliked within the Labour Party.
- Biographies of Peter Mandelson at;
- Matthew Paris and Kevin Maguire Great Parliamentary Scandals(Revised edition, Chrysalis, 2004)
- Peter Mandelson - Friend Or Foe To The Gay Community?