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Peter Mandelson

Peter Mandelson

The Rt Hon Peter Benjamin Mandelson (born October 21, 1953) is a British Labour politician, and former Member of Parliament for Hartlepool, who is currently European Commissioner for Trade. He is widely regarded as one of the key architects of the repositioning of the Labour Party and its rebranding as New Labour. He was twice forced to resign from being a Cabinet minister in the Blair Government.

Table of contents

Early life

Mandelson was born in London in 1953. He is the grandson of Herbert Morrison, the London County Council leader and Labour cabinet minister. In his youth, he briefly rebelled against his family's Labour tradition and in 1971 left the Labour Party Young Socialists, LPYS, to become a member of the Young Communist League then the youth wing of the Communist Party of Great Britain. This move was partly a result of disagreements with the Trotskyist Militant Tendency that had just won a majority in the LPYS nationally. He studied politics, philosophy and economics at St Catherine's College, Oxford, and after returning to the Labour party, became director of the British Youth Council in the late 1970s. He was elected to Lambeth Borough Council in September 1979, but retired in 1982, disillusioned with the state of Labour politics.

He worked as a television producer with London Weekend Television crucially alongside John Birt before his appointment as the Labour Party's director of communications in 1985. In this role he was one of the first people in Britain to whom the term "spin doctor" was applied; during this period he acquired the nickname The Prince of Darkness (originally coined in the satirical magazine Private Eye). In 1986 he ran the campaign at the Fulham by-election that saw Labour crucially defeat the SDP. He managed Labour's widely admired but electorally unsuccessful 1987 general election campaign. During this campaign the News of the World published a story about his private life based on revelations from a former lover.

He left the job in 1990 when he was selected as Labour candidate for the safe Labour seat of Hartlepool. He was elected to the House of Commons at the 1992 general election. Although many commentators regarded the industrial northern town of Hartlepool as an unlikely place for the metropolitan and high-living Mandelson to represent, he came to enjoy his time there and built up a rapport with the town.

A frequently told urban legend in Labour Party circles has it that Mandelson, visiting a Fish and Chip shop in his new constituency, saw the mushy peas and asked the proprietor about "the Guacamole dip". The story has been traced to an American intern at the Knowsley North by-election in 1986; Neil Kinnock has admitted to being one of those who applied the story to Mandelson.

Work with Tony Blair

Disappointingly for Mandelson, he had little influence over John Smith during his leadership of the Labour Party, although he made several notable speeches in which his strong support for the European Union was outlined. He was close to two Shadow Cabinet members, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, who were regarded as potential leaders. After Smith's sudden death in 1994, Mandelson decided to back Blair for the leadership and had a leading, though unannounced, role in the leadership campaign. This created lasting antagonism between Mandelson and Brown, who felt he had been betrayed.

Mandelson became a close ally and trusted adviser to Blair. His role in organising the many changes in the Labour Party of the time caused him to be disliked by many of his Labour colleagues as well as by political rivals. He was a natural choice to be Labour's election campaign director for the 1997 general election, which the party won by a landslide. After the election, Blair appointed him as a Minister without Portfolio in the Cabinet Office, where his job was to co-ordinate within government. A few months later, he also acquired responsibility for the Millennium Dome, after Blair decided to go ahead with the project despite the opposition of most of the Cabinet (including the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport who had been running it).

Cabinet post

In 1998 Mandelson joined the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. In his brief tenure of the post he gained the respect of the trades unions for consulting with them. During his few months in the job, he was the centre of a great deal of media attention when Matthew Parris (openly gay and then Parliamentary sketchwriter of The Times) mentioned during an interview on Newsnight in the wake of the resignation of Ron Davies that "Peter Mandelson is certainly gay". Mandelson's homosexuality had been well-known but not widely publicised, and Mandelson had not wanted it discussed. After Parris's remarks, the press felt free to discuss his personal life (in particular his relationship with Brazilian Reinaldo Avila Da Silva) to a much greater extent. Mandelson's reputation may have been harmed rather than helped by the initial decision by its political adviser, Anne Sloman, to ban any mention of his private life on the BBC.

First resignation

In December 1998, it was revealed that Mandelson had bought a home in Notting Hill in 1996 with the assistance of an interest-free indefinite loan of £373,000 from Geoffrey Robinson, a millionaire Labour MP who was also in the government but was subject to an inquiry into his business dealings by Mandelson's department. Given Mandelson's closeness to Tony Blair, this gave the appearance of buying favours. Although Mandelson had deliberately not taken part in any decisions relating to Robinson, he knew he should have declared the loan as an interest, and he therefore resigned on December 23, 1998. Mandelson had also not declared the loan to his mortgage company, although they decided not to take any action.

Mandelson was out of government for only ten months. In October 1999 he was appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, replacing the popular Mo Mowlam at a time when the peace process seemed to have stalled. He oversaw the creation of the devolved legislative assembly and power-sharing executive, and reform of the police service.

Second resignation

In January 2001 it was revealed that Mandelson had phoned Home Office minister Mike O'Brien on behalf of Srichanda Hinduja, an Indian businessman who was seeking British citizenship, and whose family firm was to become the main sponsor of the Millennium Dome's Faith Zone. On January 24, 2001, Mandelson resigned from the Government for a second time, while insisting he had done nothing wrong. An independent enquiry by Sir Anthony Hammond came to the conclusion that neither Mandelson nor anyone else had acted improperly.

Mandelson was challenged by Arthur Scargill of the Socialist Labour Party and by another left-winger at the 2001 general election, but was re-elected with a large majority. This prompted him to make an exuberant acceptance speech, which was televised live, in which he declared that "I am a fighter, not a quitter!" and referred to his "inner steel". Mandelson was much criticised for this speech which was widely regarded as ill-judged.

European Commission

On November 22, 2004 Mandelson became Britain's European Commissioner for trade. He resigned his seat through appointment as Steward of the Manor of Northstead on September 8, 2004, which caused the Hartlepool by-election, 2004 that Labour ministers were afraid the Party would lose to the Liberal Democrats. This was one of the reasons many were unhappy about the appointment of Mandelson as a European Commissioner. The other main reason was that many Gordon Brown supporters still resented him for betraying Brown.

In April 2005 The Times newspaper revealed that Peter Mandelson spent New Year’s Eve 2005 on the yacht of Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, who is at the centre of a major EU investigation.

He chairs the Policy Network and the UK-Japan Group, and is President of Hartlepool United FC.

Preceded by:
Margaret Beckett
Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
Succeeded by:
Stephen Byers
Preceded by:
Mo Mowlam
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Succeeded by:
Dr. John Reid
Preceded by:
Pascal Lamy
European Commissioner for Trade
Succeeded by:
In office

European Commission (2004–2009)

Joaquín Almunia | José Manuel Barroso | Jacques Barrot | Joe Borg | Stavros Dimas | Benita Ferrero-Waldner | Ján Figeľ | Franco Frattini | Mariann Fischer Boel | Dalia Grybauskaitė | Danuta Hübner | Siim Kallas | László Kovács | Neelie Kroes | Markos Kyprianou | Peter Mandelson | Charlie McCreevy | Louis Michel | Andris Piebalgs | Janez Potočnik | Viviane Reding | Olli Rehn | Vladimír Špidla | Günter Verheugen | Margot Wallström

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