OPINION: Mandelson's foibles add to pressure on PM

In this column on 15 December last year I wrote off Peter

Mandelson: 'The Government's emptiest PR vessel is clearly sinking'. Now

he is sunk, probably as definitively as the German battleship the Graf

Spee, whose remains I was inspecting in Montevideo when the Mandelson

finally went down. Curiously, just as the Graf Spee was scuttled, so the

politician sank himself. He was always likely to do so, given his

constant courtship with political death, but the end came a bit faster

than I thought likely. Otherwise I would have been in on the kill and

not abroad.



I am less concerned with the precise reasons why Mr Mandelson departed

than with the manner and implications of his going. There is now a

pattern to his behaviour to which Keith Vaz, the beleaguered Foreign

Office Minister, adheres: maintain a display of injured innocence. This

lot of ministers seem to believe they are incapable of doing anything

wrong or badly, even after the Blair/Ecclestone and Blair/Murdoch/Prodi

murk, Gordon Brown's statistical sleights of hands in assorted budgets,

the Robin Cook affair, Lord Falconer's mismanagement of the Millennium

Dome and gerrymandering over political donations. Only Ron Davies bit

the instant dust, presumably because his nocturnal resort to a south

London park was an impossibly broad interpretation of his Welsh brief.

After all, homosexual encounters are no bar to Cabinet office, let alone

an offence.



Yet this was a government that fought the last election on a simple

platform: 'We will clean up politics'. So what did that require them to

do? Well, the first law of political PR - any PR - is to practise what

you preach.



Otherwise you are likely to be exposed as a hypocrite, which does not go

down well with voters. So they should have come to office with an acute

sense of responsibility for good behaviour. But their election platform

required more than that. The second law of political PR - any PR - is

not merely to behave but be seen to behave. Otherwise you just look

evasive, furtive and rum, which also goes down badly with voters. And

who was the guiding PR light of this government both before and after

1997? Why, the sunken Mr Mandelson.



He, above all, should have known what their platform required of himself

and his party. That means that, if he couldn't behave, he should have

known to go quietly first time round over his remarkable mortgage

arrangements and sit this parliament out in penance on the backbenches.

His failure to do so and then to get into resigning trouble again in the

same parliament demonstrates either monumental stupidity or monumental

arrogance, or both - and not merely in himself, but also in his boss, Mr

Blair.



We now have to ask ourselves whether this government - the most

presentationally conscious and obsessive government in British history -

has any public relations sense at all.



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