This is a sometimes 'cheesey' blog about British and American politics and anything else which tickles my fancy!

Saturday, 7 February 2009

The Politician's Politician

Channel 4 is about to hold its annual political awards and the most important category in the contest is for the 'Politician's Politician'. This year the contenders are Diane Abbott, John Bercow, Lord Mandelson and George Osborne.
I think Lord Mandelson should get it.

His return to front line politics last autumn was a spectacular coup for the government. Nobody expected him to be recalled from Brussels, mainly because we all thought Gordon Brown hated him. But as the Prime Minister calculated at the time, Mandelson's return was both in the national and the Party interest.

Some interpreted it as a sign of how desperate Brown was, but in politics you do what you need to do to survive. And anyway, it showed that Brown did have a magnanimous streak after all.

Mandelson returned to the Cabinet with the noblesse oblige of an elder statesman being called back to do his duty at a time of national crisis.

And he hit the ground running.

Within weeks, you detected a change in the way the government was conducting its communications. The message was more co-ordinated and focused. The briefings against colleagues which had been in abundance up until Party Conference, seemed to disappear. Yet, the attacks on the Conservatives multiplied.

This culminated in the one man campaign Mandelson seemed to wage against George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor. The story of the Greek yacht saga may have dented Mandelson slightly but it irrevocably damaged Osborne more in the eyes of his Party and the country. It was classic Peter. The message was clear: 'I'm back, don't mess with me'.

Mandelson, the arch strategist, seemed to instill a new sense of direction and purpose in the government. The result: Labour's poll numbers shot up, briefly coming close to overtaking the Tories.

He was perfect for the role of Business Secretary. His international experience negotiating the world trade deals on behalf of the EU made him probably the most experienced member of the Cabinet there was. He has an instinctive understanding of what business wants. And like Brown, he correctly believes that free trade and free markets can be used for social ends.

In this role he has called for a more 'mixed economy' less reliant on financial services. Last week, he bailed out the car industry, saving jobs and livelihoods. He has also called for the part-privatisation of the Post Office. A necessary step I believe to ensuring that there is a Post Office at all in the future.

Mandelson brings a level of competence and expertise to the Cabinet - which, let's face it - wasn't there beforehand. I never feel with Mandelson, that he has given up on securing Labour a fourth term. He may know it is an uphill struggle, but unlike some members of the PLP and the Cabinet, he is not just waiting around to collect his pension. He is keen to ensure that the New Labour legacy survives and adapts for the future. He has a hunger and energy which counteracts the fatalism of some in the Labour Party.

Most importantly from my perspective, Mandelson is an antidote to some of the people the Prime Minister surrounds himself with. His judgement and strategy when it comes to politics are second to none - much better than some of those cynical young men the Prime Minister normally listened to.

Of course, not everything has gone smoothly. He still needs to do more to win over people in the Labour Party and the media and he should have really chosen his words more carefully last week, when he was commenting on the wildcat strikes.

But these are minor blips. Lord Mandelson (a bit like Tony Blair) has star quality. When he speaks, you listen. He commands authority and respect. With him in the government, I feel more confident.

Yes, the real test is how to get Britain out of this recession and get Labour a fourth term. But, these are all contests for another day. For now, I think he deserves to win the Channel 4 one.


Leo Schulz said...

Interesting - I think accurate - observations on the changes in the culture of government when Mandelson returned, the improvement in communications and the end of the constant, semi-public counter-briefings (pace Ms H. Blears). Good point too that it was Mandelson who so quickly and finally and with such apparent lack of effort destroyed George Osborne. The 'New Tories' no longer reflect the bravura and charm of the irresistible Blair-Brown double act, and Cameron has to limp along on the tired crutches of Ken Clarke and William Hague... both proven losers.

Alex Finnegan said...

Exactly. When you look at the shadow team, there really isn't the quality there. Cameron is head and shoulders above his colleagues. At least in 1997, Labour had a strong team - Blair, Brown, Blunkett, Straw, Mowlam - who looked like they were ready for government. I don't see that on the shadow benches.