Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book Review: Peter Mandelson's The Third Man

I don't mind admitting it. It's taken me a long time to finish off Peter Mandelson. His book, I mean. And I have to say, I have immensely enjoyed it. Why? Because it is so authentically Peter Mandelson writing it. Well, of course it is, you may say. It's his autobiography. OK, fair point, but the fact is that many autobiographies are written with the intention of glorifying the role played by the author in the affairs of the nation that you wonder why you bothered reading the book in the first place. I am not saying this book is without its vanities - in fact, it is full of them. But unusually for a politician Peter Mandelson is unashamedly honest about his own strengths and weaknesses.

The title of the book gives it away. Peter Mandelson really did see himself as the Third Man - the third most important man in New Labour and possibly the third most important politician of the New Labour years. He makes a persuasive argument. And yet one cannot escape the thought that at times he was a major escalator of the rows which took place between the two men who sought his approval and political help - Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He recognises this himself and catalogues the occasions where he knew that his very presence was not conducive to a good relationship between the Prime Minister and his Chancellor. At times he would completely absent himself in the hope that peace would prevail. As we all know, it was a vain hope.

Without doubt, the most entertaining parts of the books are the chapters detailing his return to the Cabinet in 2008, the 2010 election and the coalition talks. Although he was right at the centre of events, he writes about the events almost as a political commentator, watching them with some wry amusement.

He is painfully honest about his relationship with Gordon Brown and completely up front about his political and personal weaknesses. Almost completely. In the chapters on his return to government you sense that he would like to say more but he doesn't want to hurt his old political friend (and foe) any more than he has to. I can hear his editor saying "But Peter, we need just a little more here," on more than one occasion. But I don't blame him for that.

The truth is that Peter Mandelson very nearly helped pull off an unlikely victory for Gordon Brown. At times, it looked almost possible. But in the end you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, and Brown's inadequacies rendered the Mandelson rescue mission impossible, a fact he implicitly acknowledges at the end of the book.

We don't learn an awful lot we didn't know about Peter Mandelson's personal life that we didn't know, which is a shame. His partner Reinaldo gets the odd passing mention but that's about all. One senses that there is still a certain reticence there, a feeling that such things are not talked about in polite society. I understand it, but from the reader's point of view, I regret it.

I don't see how anyone can possibly fully understand the New Labour years without reading this book. But it's not a book you ought to feel you must read out of a duty. It really is a pleasure. Mandelson writes well and although it is one of the vainest autobiographies I have ever read, it is no worse for it. As a political stragegist and one of the architects of New Labour, Peter Mandelson has a lot to be vain about.

Buy the book HERE.


Unsworth said...

OK so we don't get to hear about his personal life, but is there any real information about his complex and secretive business activities? What about his relationships with sundry Russians and EU officials?

What's particularly revealing about this book is that which he has chosen not to discuss or even mention. This kind of 'Honesty' is - true to character - smoke and mirrors, mere persiflage. It'll take a decent researcher to uncover the actualit├ęs - and Mandelson would fight that all the way.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather get the Irish edition - The Turd Man ;-)

Tapestry said...

Iain's toleration of human failing such as the vanity of Mandelson, which is off the scale, is equally immeasurable.

I would not want to read any book that even mentions Tony Blair and Gordon Brown until at least fifty years have passed, by which time I will be safely out of time. Their faces and names bring on a feeling of instant sickness, brought on by endless years of suppressed rage.

One thing I never forgive is being lied to. Being lied to every day of my life for a decade is as great a mental torture as any human could devise. Mandelson was and is the very equal of this pair in his capacity to know or express the truth.

Please burn the book, and get rid of these peoples'faces from our memories. It would add years to my life expectancy, if you did. The stench of a society rotting from their works still invades our nostrils. It will take years for it to clear. Take pity of those of us who suffer. Get rid of these dysfunctional people and their endless vanities and perversions.

Manfarang said...

The title The Third Man also alludes to eastern European connections.