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“I exist only to serve”

John Rentoul
mandelson 300x225 I exist only to serve

Peter Mandelson (Getty Images)

I thought I had heard Peter Mandelson say it, and have used it with attribution for years. It was one of his catchphrases, as was, “I must return to the people whence I came,” which was his way of saying he was going to Hartlepool.

But when I mentioned it a few months ago (Deborah Mattinson thanked me for correcting her auto-erroneous apostrophe before retweeting her comment), David Aaronovitch claimed authorship, saying that his fictional Labour MP, Lynton Charles, had reported Mandelson saying it in 1996.

At that time Aaronovitch wrote a brilliant parody of New Labour, in the form of Lynton Charles’s diary (Tony Blair’s middle names being Charles Lynton), for the New Statesman.

But then, if you read the Twitter thread, Lesley Smith also remembers Mandelson using the phrase. It would seem that Aaronovitch made it up and that Mandelson then adopted it.

How typical of both of them.

While we are on the etymology of Mandelson quotations, I should report on a visit to the archives to trace the origin of one of the Great Peter’s most-quoted remarks. I spend much of my time on the internet correcting people who quote Mandelson saying he was “intensely relaxed about people who get filthy rich”.

Which are not the precise words he used, and which omit the all-important qualification. Mandelson’s words were first reported by Victor Keegan in The Guardian in 1998:

These puzzles are now in the hands of Peter Mandelson, the Trade and Industry Secretary, who has just returned from Silicon Valley apparently intoxicated by the entrepreneurial air he was breathing there. He is not the first nor the last industry minister to do that but he is important because he is the first for a long time to have clout in Downing Street.

He was told by the dean of engineering at Stamford University, the institutional godfather of Silicon Valley’s recent success, that it was “just plain OK to get filthy rich” in the United States. Mr Mandelson replied that Labour was “intensely relaxed” about people getting filthy rich but added a crucial qualification – as long as they pay taxes.

So now you know.

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  • http://twitter.com/anthonyzach Anthony Zacharzewski

    I exist only to serve is Humphrey in Yes Minister, surely?

  • reformist lickspittle

    Who cares – seriously??

  • Laars

    “How typical?” of Aaronovitch? He was writing fiction so he made up a quote. Not exactly damning, no matter how much of a git I might think he is.


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