Those who pay attention to such things will not be entirely surprised to hear that Peter ‘Lord’ Mandelson has been recruited by Steven Spielberg to help run the PR campaign for his film Lincoln in the UK. After all, presentation is what Baron Mandelson of Foy has always excelled at.
But the astonishing spectacle of Mandelson comparing himself to Lincoln in a ridiculous promo video to help launch the film is a truly WTF beyond parody moment that is likely to send numerous jaws hurtling toward the floor. In it, Mandelson talks movingly about his convictions and the ‘price’ he has had to pay for them, and compares himself to Abraham Lincoln, declaring:
‘When I look back at Lincoln’s presidency and what he had to struggle through, I see a man who had a great sense of conviction, of moral certitude, that he was right and changes that needed to be made were absolutely necessary for the U.S. at the time. He was somebody who was also prepared to use pragmatic means to arrive at his goal. Recruiting his rivals and his adversaries to the cause he was pursuing … This is the art and skill of politics.’
Well maybe it is. But the cause that Lincoln pursued, at least from April 1863 onwards, was the end of chattel slavery in the United States. Lincoln pursued this objective in the midst of a bloody conflict that was ripping his country to pieces, and his commitment to it eventually cost him his life.
Mandelson, by contrast, was one of the architects of New Labour, a political operator whose ’cause’, as far as it is possible to identify one at all, was to swing his party rightwards and continue the ‘reform’ programme begun by Margaret Thatcher through more surreptitious means.
Mandelson famously declared that ‘ New Labour is intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich.’ Throughout his career, this essential principle has informed his actions both as a cabinet minister and as EU Trade Commissioner, where he has assidiously courted oligarchs and plutocrats, and done his best to promote their interests whenever possible.
In 2008, shortly before leaving the post to return to UK politics, he threatened Guyana, one of the poorest countries in the world, with financial penalties that could amount to €70m a year because the Guyanese government refused to join an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the European Union.
As for principle - in his 2010 memoirs Mandelson criticized Blair for having ‘tunnel vision’ in taking the country to war, and wrote of his concerns about the post-war outcome in discussion with his boss in 2002. Unlike Robin Cook, these concerns were not made public at the time. Yet in June 2009, according to the journalist John Kampfner, Mandelson was instrumental in urging Gordon Brown to set down specific conditions for the Iraq war inquiry, in order to make it more ‘manageable’.
Mandelson had played a similar role in narrowing the remit of the Hutton Inquiry, and he wanted to ensure a similar outcome in the committee headed by Sir John Chilcot. In Kampfner’s account: ‘ Brown was instructed to ensure that the members of the inquiry would, in the words of one official “not stir the horses”. Brown readily acquiesced.’
I bet. So here we have a politician who sought to limit full disclosure about a war that he himself had not supported – and not once, but twice. With convictions like that, who needs to be amoral? As for the ‘price’ that Mandelson has paid for his ‘convictions’ - his two resignations were not the result of his commitment to any ’cause’, but the consequence of his own dodgy financial arrangements and improper dealings with yet another plutocrat.
All this does not exactly bear out Mandelson’s account of himself as a conviction politician in the Lincoln mold, but suggests instead a consummate careerist and manipulator, whose melodramatic monicker the ‘Prince of Darkness’ hints at non-existent depths and absent complexities.
None of this has stopped Lord ‘filthy rich’ from following in Blair’s footsteps and acquiring a great deal of the lucre that he admired so much in others. Today, Mandelson’s income is estimated at £1 million a year or more.
It isn’t true that he has paid no price for his convictions, however. In 2011 a woman whacked him in the face with a custard pie – an incident that is included in the Spielberg promo video to support his self-serving comparisons.
But that still doesn’t make her the equivalent of John Wilkes Booth, and it sure as hell doesn’t make Lord Mandelson of Foy into Abraham Lincoln.