Monday, 30 August 2010

Peter breaks cover (again) as the Blairite battalions come out

David Miliband began his campaign with an effort to shake off the "Blairite" tag, which has always been something of a caricature. On policy substance, his campaign has quite a lot in common with that of his brother, enabling Next Left to anatomise and welcome his own centre-leftward "lurch".

David Miliband told The Independent on Sunday this weekend

It’s also a deeper thing. Tony and Gordon’s politics was forged on the anvil of ’92. that wasn’t where my politics was forged really and they had to learn the lessons of the 87-92 period or the 83-92 period.

So there are pros and cons in the extent to which, as the ballot papers go out, the Blairite big battalions have come out in force for Miliband the Elder. This is now likely to dominate the mood music of the early voting, coinciding with a week in which the other big political story is publication of the biography of Tony Blair himself.

The scale of the New Labour push partly reflects the view, among MPs supporting both candidates, that the contest remains much closer than the bookmakers suggest. The David M campaign have done well to create a sense of momentum towards the finishing line, but it still looks neck-and-neck enough to fear that second preferences could swing it the other way.

So could it now be the Blairites wot win it for David M? Or might their high-profile intervention do more harm than good to their favoured candidate, highlighting Ed Miliband's argument that it is time to move on? (On the other side, Paul Kenny of the GMB's apparent threat about party funding almost certainly unhelpful for Ed Miliband, who politely begged to differ).

The Blair biography is unlikely to receive a warm media reception. But hacks - and perhaps the Labour twittersphere too - may significantly underestimate the extent to which Blair - electorally Labour's most successful leader - still holds considerable influence with party members themselves.

But what about Peter? Deborah Mattinson tweeted, in response to that point, that:

Agree of course TB still holds sway. But Mandelson may be another matter...

And so, even today, Peter Mandelson again stops officially 1% short of a direct endorsement of David Miliband, in case it might not prove helpful to have it, though there is little rationale behind that given how clearly his choice is being projected.

And here, history repeats itself, with a curious symmetry with Blair's own election campaign for leader.

Back in 1994 when Mo Mowlam and Peter Kilfoyle told Labour MPs that Mandelson had no role in the Blair campaign, to which he was central, being thanked under his codename "Bobby" in Blair's victory speech.

As Donald MacIntyre writes in his excellent Mandelson biography, which is also perhaps the best general history of the making of New Labour back in the day:

Contrary to reports at the time, it was nothing to do with the Kennedys. It was hastily plucked at random by Kate Garvey, a member of Blair's staff, as a way of keeping Mandelson's extensive involvement in the campaign clandestine; it was very nearly 'Terry'. The secrecy was thought necessary for the Blair campaign to ensure its appeal beyond the ranks of modernisers, to avoid putting off those who were personally hostile to the Hartlepool MP, and (ironically) to allay the fears of those who thought he was still a 'spy' for Gordon Brown. Mo Mowlam, initially hostile and part of the original Blair campaign, began consulting Mandelson regularly, whle carefully maintaining the fiction to others that he had no role in it.

Even though he had agreed to it, Mandelson was frustrated, even hurt, by Blair's insistence on keeping his role in the dark ... the secrecy largely held, because journalists knew that, if they broke it, their contact with Mandelson would cease".

1 comment:

Chris said...

I believe the fact that Mandelson won't just come out and endorse a candidate is more damaging than any residual hatred or affection. The same goes for Blair, with pre-interview off the record briefings about who he is really going to endorse - so that when he doesn't endorse someone directly we are all primed to know who he is not saying, and who he is not not saying, is his choice. All without it being necessary to watch.

These things just remind us of the worst aspects of New Labour era. They remind us of the spin, they remind us of the constant fighting through the press, and they remind us about paving things with good intentions.