The Times today has given Peter Mandelson a platform to announce he is publishing his version of the last thirty years, with a book whose title spotlights the closed, macho, manipulative and spying cuture of the New Labour project "The Third Man".
The joke is indeed on us.
Before the book is even signed off, its author's announcement is a health warning - read this poison with care! To create a stir he modestly suggests he was wrong to prevent a leadership contest between Blair and Brown in 1994. Don't you believe it. Not only does he not really think he was wrong, in fact he wasn't wrong. This is what he says in this morning's paper:
After John Smith died I was mistaken in arguing so hard that the two modernising candidates should not oppose each other. I did so from the best motives. I did not want two friends to hurt each other. I did not want the modernisers’ cause damaged with the risk that a split vote might let in someone else. But if we had resolved the matter there and then, we would have avoided so much of the soap opera that followed.
What does this mean? The words "arguing so hard" meaning using every form of organised force possible to prevent a contest. "I did not want the modernisers’ cause damaged with the risk that a split vote might let in someone else." Means, that had Brown run against Blair, Robin Cook would then have stood as well, and as he was far and away the best debater could have come through in any open contest. "If we had resolved the matter there and then." But what "matter" was that? That Blair could have fired Brown rather than being dependent upon him - as Brown would not have won an open contest? I don't think so. To be the 'Third Man' there has to be a pre-existing partnership. Mandelson knows that while what followed had its operatic moments it was not a "soap opera". Blair needed Brown and would never have been able to govern as he did without him while Brown would not have tolerated anything less than a partnership.
Mandelson insists that the "revisionist" spirit of New Labour is the true tradition of the Labour Party itself (this is true) and says, you have to smile:
It is about Labour not being a party of class or sectional interest, but about being a broad-based party of conscience and reform. An outlook that remains in tune with the priorities and ambitions of families across the country. Open, not tribal. Pluralist, not statist.
Ha, ha! If this is not for a moment a description of the 'project' what is it? Pious words? A snake putting on another creatures skin? I suspect it is a job application from someone who wants to join the Coalition.
Press Cameron's key words: 'families', 'open', 'not statist'. What me, statist? Absolutely not! The First Man, he was statist! The Second Man, oh gosh was he statist! But the Third Man? He was pluaralist all along, open as a dream. Show him an oligarch, for example, and there wasn't a hint of working class tribalism. Offer him help with a mortagage, and what else was the great reforming-revisioning tradition of the working class aspiration for a better life about, if not better accomodation? Or as he put it before 1997, "It's our turn for the big cars". No, no, what he said was "It is our turn to be a broad-based party of conscience".