THE DAY AFTER Peter Mandelson resigned, I had a new desk delivered. After lugging it up to my study, the driver and his mate clutched their mugs of tea and savoured the topic of the day. Both gloated that "he's gone and good riddance." Their reaction had that same glowing personal satisfaction that I had found , not only in myself, but with my academic friends
British political history is littered with the goings and comings of ministers on points of principle or pique or after being caught out in some lie or other moral failing.
Few now remember why Lord Stanley departed Peel's government or Harold Wilson left Attlee's. Only a few goings or comings produced public rejoicing. When in 1939 the message was flashed throughout the Royal Navy "Winston is back," the sailors knew the right man was being summoned to his destiny. To turn from the sublime to the ridiculous : when a few days ago down mobile phones and over ciabatta sandwiches came the news "Mandy is out," a sense of satisfaction swiftly blended into gleeful gloating.
yET, IS IT RIGHT or moral to gloat at someone else's misfortune? Surely it is wrong to gloat at another person's illness or accident. The tumble of a politician from what Disraeli aptly called ' the greasy pole" is a different matter, especially if that particular politician embodies a concept of political life that has brought a once honourable calling into public contempt.
If some worry that rejoicing at Mandelson's fall is unChristian, surely we can reply that the Prime Minister, who as we all know is a conspicuous Christian, gave his closest political ally a chance to redeem himself after his first fall. No one can recall another example of a Cabinet minister resigning twice in the same Parliament for the same reason. 'Peter,' said his colleague Clare Short , "has got problems with the truth."
The Pope only recently held up Thomas More to be the model for all politicians. The contrast between a More and a Mandelson is too cruel to elucidate. Mandelson's reputation, mainly fashioned by his own hand, was built upon the notion that principles should be rejected in favour of opinion polls and focus groups. Beliefs that had animated the Labour Party for a century were cast overboard to gain the smiles of the glitterati and the donations of The vast bulk of Cabinet ministers since the time of Sir Robert Walpole have been motivated by a shifting combination of ambition and a desire to improve the lot of their fellow men. If we recall the memorable politicians of recent decades, it is names such as Churchill, Bevin, Attlee, Thatcher, Benn, and Powell who spring vividly to mind. All were not only great personalities but people of deep convictions. Not for them a life of slithering from one glittering party to another PR reception to whisper `spin' into the ear of a deferential hack.
Not only was ' Mandy' the living embodiment of political manipulation, but he was the supreme cheerleader for that ludicrous Dome that remains a standing rebuke to all connected with it. This preposterous project was an immoral waste of public money that could have done so much good in the hard pressed NHS. The Dome has had one salutary result : it has tarnished the reputation of all those connected with it from its father Michael Hesictine to its principal mouthpiece, Peter Mandelson.
The forced departure of such a figure as Mandelson is a credit to British politics. Such an event is inconceivable amid the corrupt systems of the Mitterands, the Kohls and the Santers that prevail in the European Union. One can only imagine the incomprehension of the functionaires of those vast ugly buildings in Bnissels at the fall of the most pro-European Minister in Britain for une petite raison.
Mandelson's own favourite drink is said to be hot water with lemon. For my part, shall raise another glass of something a bit stronger to toast the fall of one who tried (and for a heady time succeeded), to turn politics into a glitzy soap opera without principles.