Mandelson's memoirs illustrate the failure of political vision

By Jill Segger
July 23, 2010

As the coalition's plans for reducing public services to an ineffectual rump and for implementing cuts in benefits which will cause real hardship to the most vulnerable begin to take horrifying shape, the main focus on the opposition has centred around Peter Mandelson's memoirs.

The TV advertisement for this book has a certain tacky and knowing self-mockery about it which is passably amusing – it was probably inevitable that Mandelson would play on his 'Prince of Darkness' image to boost his bank account. But it is also a depressing encapsulation of much that has gone wrong in our political culture.

It has been said that all almost all political memoirs could be subtitled “vindicated at last” and this tedious, self-serving account of sulks, tantrums, plots and vendettas within New Labour is no exception.

The 'Third Man' appears to have no interest whatsoever in ideas. Nowhere amongst the detailing of bitter and childish rows, is there any debate on the kind of society for which Labour might be expected to work.

It was not always thus. Over 50 years ago, Anthony Crosland's 'The Future of Socialism' set the agenda for a generation of the progressive left. In the 80s, Roy Hattersley developed the tradition in 'Choose Freedom' – an argument for equality which has not been bettered and earlier, in 1975, a youthful Gordon Brown had edited the Red Paper for Scotland which lit up that country's political thinking and paved the way for devolution. The Liberal Democrats have the Orange Book while Ed Vaizey's series of 'Blue Books' developed Conservative policy in the earlier years of this decade.

Mandelson is not the first politician to abandon serious political thought in favour of writing lucrative gossip, but his memoirs will do nothing to reduce the contempt in which politicians are held. Such writing pushes the formation of, and debate about, political ideas still further from the thinking of a culture increasingly wedded to 'personality politics'.

The Labour movement should be formulating a view of the kind of society which offers a real alternative to the destruction of the enabling and adjudicating state which at present is effectively going unopposed. To be picking over the ruins of Blairism is futile: we do not need to know what Harriet said to Gordon and who was angry with Alistair. Labour must look to the future and engender discussion about what is to come.

Where there is no vision, the people perish.

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