01 September 2010

The Third Man

The Third Man
To promote his political memoir The Third Man: Life At The Heart Of New Labour last month, Peter Mandelson was filmed sitting in front of a roaring fire narrating a fairy-tale version of New Labour: "Once upon a time there was a kingdom, and for many years it was ruled by two powerful kings. But the kings wouldn't have been in power without a third man. People called him 'the prince of darkness'. I don't know why!" His ironic smirk after that last line is hilariously conspiratorial and theatrical, like Mandelson himself - in contrast to Gordon Brown's cringe-making fake smile on YouTube last year (photographed in Where Power Lies).

Unlike Alastair Campbell, whose diaries were published in 2007, Mandelson spent long periods outside the heart of government. He may have been more influential than Campbell in shaping New Labour, though his two resignations (in 1998 and 2001) and his period as EU Commissioner (2004-2008) meant that he was periodically marginalised from Downing Street. Therefore, The Third Man focuses more on the (admittedly fascinating) twists and turns of Mandelson's political career than on the major policy decisions of the Labour government.

Mandelson's relationships with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (the first and second men, with Mandelson as the Harry Lime figure) are a central preoccupation: his backing of Blair for the Labour leadership, his subsequent long-running feud with Brown, and finally his public comeback when Brown replaced Blair as Prime Minister. Most useful is his insider's account of this year's election and its aftermath, events which occurred too late for Andrew Rawnsley's otherwise comprehensive The End Of The Party.

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