What Did Peter Mean?

John Rentoul

mand What Did Peter Mean?As ever with Peter Mandelson, one is left thinking, “What did he mean by that?”

He was on Andrew Marr’s show yesterday and said some interesting and ambiguous things.

1. The least ambiguous was on reforming the trade unions’ “grip” on the Labour Party:

What Ed has got to do is follow the logic of his own analysis, his own diagnosis. He’s said, and I agree with him, that the relationship needs to be between Labour and the individual Labour-supporting members of trade unions, rather than with the general secretaries and their block votes.

ANDREW MARR: So, no more block votes for leadership, no more block votes on policy.

LORD MANDELSON: What it means is lifting the trade union grip from the party’s conference and its policy-making; from the membership of the National Executive Committee of the party and from the trade unions’ role in electing the leadership, the leader of the Labour Party. There has to be a re-balancing. I don’t want to see the relationship with the trade unions ended. I do, however, want to see it radically mended. But I think the public – This is a source of great interest and anxiety for the public and they want to see change, especially as Ed Miliband himself has opened the door to that change.

ANDREW MARR: He’s sounded the trumpet and led everyone uphill. Are you at all concerned that we’re not going to see, from him, the full range of reforms that it looked like we were going to see in the autumn.

LORD MANDELSON: I don’t think he has an option. And one outcome, by the way, that must be avoided is as the affiliation and the payments made by the trade unions to the Labour Party, based on that affiliation, are reduced, we don’t want to see that funding replaced by a sort of discretionary funding, of the Labour Party, by the trade unions, that would give them even greater control over the Labour Party’s policy-making.

ANDREW MARR: Do Ed Miliband’s prospects at the election depend upon this?

LORD MANDELSON: I think what many in the public remember is that the leadership was won by Ed on the basis of the trade unions’ vote, and notably the support of key trade union general secretaries. He’s got to sort of distance himself from that and show real change.

No ambiguity there, except in the use of the plural. He means Len McCluskey and his small group of Leninist-minded men and women who control Unite, the largest union.

2. He defended Ed Balls:

Ed Balls has a wealth of knowledge and experience. Of economics, of international finance, of markets. I think he has huge expertise, which the country will benefit from. I sometimes think, though, that he’s, perhaps, better in government than he is in opposition, but that’s not a bad thing. I’d rather have a Chancellor of the Exchequer who’s good in government than a shadow chancellor who’s simply good at being an opposition spokesman.

Some have interpreted this as an attack on Balls, and it was interesting that he also mentioned Chuka Umunna – a possible replacement shadow chancellor – in his previous answer. But I see it more as another attack on Ed Miliband: he was saying that the Labour leader does not understand economics, international finance and markets, and that a Labour government would need Balls in it to rein in some of Miliband’s mushy instincts.

3. Mandelson went out of his way to mention the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, “which remains a very sensitive issue for many in the Labour Party, but also many in the public”.

Again, much scratching of heads among people who like to think themselves leftier than their lesser brethren. Isn’t Chilcot bad news for Tony Blair and therefore topping news for Ed “Anti” Miliband?

What these people do not understand, and Mandelson was gently reminding them, is that most of the Labour Party supported the Iraq war, for the most noble of motives. He was warning Miliband that if he responds to the hate fest that will greet the eventual publication of the report by repeating his “we were wrong” line, he would needlessly alienate the large number (possibly still a majority) of Labour MPs who voted for intervention; the party members who don’t much like being called war criminals; and a slice of the centrist electorate who thought that New Labour’s foreign policy was on balance something of which to be proud.

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  • Pacificweather

    I doubt that you will find interviews with all 200 so the best evidence available is the way they voted. Sometimes best evidence is the only historical evidence available. Like you, I welcome other contributions.

  • reformist lickspittle

    Which would be fair comment if nobody had predicted the likely consequences of the Iraq adventure beforehand.

    But, of course, they did……

  • JohnJustice

    There were predicted likely consequences both ways. .A decision had to be made on the basis of what was considered to be the lesser of the evils at the time. I and many others believe that the right decision was made . You and many others do not. Since what was the lesser evil cannot now be proved either way (unless someone has access to a parallel universe in which Saddam is still in power) perhaps we should leave it all as a matter of opinion while recognising the noble motives of those who supported and opposed the war on this basis.

  • porkfright

    “An established fact” maybe-though Porkfright thinks “Codswallop” as about much else which is spun as fact by interested parties with many tomahawks to grind. So what happened to/where are/were the WMD? A vitally important matter to which the answer is always-nothing, nowt, zilch.

  • Pacificweather

    Is not the motive of others also not a matter of opinion that we should leave to one side. It is as wrong to ascribe a noble motive to someone as it is to ascribe a malign one unless one knows them very well. The best on can say is they did what they did and it turned out well, badly or made little difference over all.

    Are motives important? A person who acts foolishly for noble motives still acts foolishly. A person who acts wisely for malign motives still acts wisely.

  • jwh0714

    I guess motives matter when apportioning blame. I feel differently about knaves compared to fools. Probably the attempt to condemn Tony Blair as fool and knave simultaneously undercuts both.

  • Pacificweather

    Tony Blair was Prime Minister for many years and did many wise things and some foolish things. JR is only concerned with the foolish things he did and not with the wise. Like all leaders, some things he did for noble reasons and some for ignoble ones. It is for us individually to judge if the ignoble and foolish were combined. Our individual world view will tell us what is noble and what is ignoble. There are no absolute standards of nobility.

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