Bring back Peter Mandelson, says John Woodcock

So, another Labour Party election process is getting underway as the finish line finally comes into view for the main race.

And now we know that the whole shadow cabinet will be elected, those of us in the Parliamentary party who aren’t putting ourselves forward are girding our inboxes ahead of the ballot in conference week.

Having myself been clogging up said inboxes during the select committee elections earlier this year, it ill behoves me to complain about people having the temerity to communicate their qualities to their colleagues ahead of this enormously important vote.

Choosing a new top team is a big responsibility that will have a real impact on our ability to hold the new government to account and generate the fresh ideas we need to get back into contention. In fact, it is such a big responsibility that I would have liked to share it with our new leader by giving him or her the right to appoint half the members, but that wasn’t to be.

Just as with the leadership election, this is of course a time for a new generation to put themselves forward. This party is blessed with talented people who have been on the edge of the cabinet whose zeal in adapting to opposition has shown what assets they would be in the shadow cabinet.

But even so, it is striking how many of our wise old heads are choosing this moment to retire from the frontline. Jack Straw and Alistair Darling have decided it is time to give others the chance to fight the battles that lie ahead if we are to have a chance of regaining power at the next election. I respect that.

So, elder statesmen and women want to retire – sad but understandable. But it does put a premium on ensuring that the youth and enthusiasm of the new team is balanced with the experience of those who remember opposition, still have the capacity to strike blows against our opponents and remain up for the fight.

Harriet Harman is staying, of course. I very much hope that Alan Johnson and Tessa Jowell will want to throw their hat into the ring, and Yvette Cooper will be a force to be reckoned with wherever she ends up.

But there is one heavyweight who has made clear he still wants to serve the party he loves and yet has pretty much been told that he has retired.

The sprightly elder statesman I have in mind is Peter Mandelson.

It is an understatement to say that the Dark Lord is never going to be everyone’s cup of tea, though don’t forget the amazing reception he got at last year’s party conference.

I also understand that a man who knocks out an explosive and indiscrete memoir shining a light on our recent past is hard to deal with during a leadership election in which candidates are desperate to portray themselves as the future.

But the near-universal response went too far: thanks for fighting like a tiger, but now sod off to your retirement home and please stop with your stories about the war.

I do not pretend that this is straightforward. For one thing, it is not clear how a member of the House of Lords could fit in to an elected shadow cabinet.

What is more, Peter’s recent history of dominating the government would mean that spheres of influence would need to be clear, so that the new shadow cabinet didn’t become unbalanced.

And if he is going to play a part in Labour’s next chapter, then relationships will need to be rebuilt. I hope and fully expect that the criticism he has meted out about the attitude of candidates in the leadership race will prove unfounded once whoever wins gets stuck into leading us back to power.

But the overriding reason that whoever wins should do their best to make sure that Peter does continue to contribute is that the Tories are terrified of him, and rightly. It is hard to make the case that we are over-burdened with people whom our opponents fear and who can command the attention of the media with the aplomb that Mandelson manages.

Politicians ossify. They grow stale in the eyes of the public. Both those things may yet happen to Peter, but they haven’t yet.

It would be crazy to exclude from our recovery a man who is among the very best we have at taking on the Tories. Let’s recognise that and stop acting like he is ready to put out to pasture.

John Woodcock is Labour MP for Barrow and Furness

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12 Responses to “Bring back Peter Mandelson, says John Woodcock”

  1. Robert says:

    You have to be mad to even think of allowing doctor death back in, he left he is now in the Lords leave him, are you really saying we need this bloke who is more interested in his friends in high places. no bloody thanks

  2. Tim Bale wrote a fantastic Fabian Essay over the summer on the twelve steps Labour needs to take to return to government. One of these steps was the following:

    “Don’t let anyone – especially the big beasts (presuming for the moment that you have any) – turn down a place on the front bench, whatever their excuse. You need absolutely everyone you’ve got on deck, manning the guns, hoisting the sails, and repelling borders. Anyone who declines to serve – especially if they’re talented and/or highly regarded (or just recognised) by the public – will simply convey the impression that there’s something wrong with the leadership and direction you’ve decided on. Or they’ll look lazy. Worse still, they’re wasting a Commons seat that might otherwise go to someone who gives a damn – someone with a future rather than a past.”

    It’s hard to argue with this. That’s why I’m disappointed that the likes of Jack Straw and Alistair Darling have decided not to put themselves forward for the Shadow Cabinet.

  3. Mick Williams. says:

    Totally disagree with John ‘quid pro quo’ Woodcock (wasn’t he a ‘Mandelson ask’ in Barrow – just like Tristram Hunt in Stoke ?).

    My (now invalid) Party card says of its aims: “The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party” and when I am asked to consider any form of action mooted by the likes of the Lord Meddlesome I invariably ask two questions:
    1. Is this democratic ?
    2. Is this socialist ?
    Very, very, occasionally one answer will squeak through in a modified affirmative but never, never, has there been one which has been unequivocal or unambiguous.

    Mick Williams,
    Convenor, Democracy4Stoke.

  4. Emma Burnell says:

    If you want to absolutely guarantee that we lose the next election, by all means bring Mandelson back.

    If on the other hand you fancy winning and then governing well, we must kick this dvisive stuck-in-the-past numpty as far into the long grass as possible.

  5. rachel says:

    What Emma said…

  6. resistor says:

    Lest we forget when Mandy told the Brazilians not to vote for Lula

    Brazil’s main left-wing Workers’ Party has protested to the British government over remarks by Peter Mandelson, a close aide to prime minister Tony Blair.

    Mr Mandelson, who’s just ended a visit to Brazil, suggested that the party’s proposals for this year’s presidential elections represented an old-fashioned and out-of-date socialism.

    He also praised President Cardoso as a statesman of high international calibre.

    In London, a government spokesman said Mr Mandelson had been careful not to intervene in Brazilian politics.

  7. BenSix says:

    No principles, no ideas but he, er – scares the Tories? Christ, man, couldn’t you just hire Tony Soprano? He might be less corrupt as well.

  8. james says:

    John, you really have to give this a rest. It’s becoming embarrassing.

  9. ben says:

    hate to say it but the mans got serious skills, i agree with ya john! even if no one else does…

  10. William Campbell says:

    Mandelson took the Murdoch dollar to slag off the party this summer. End of story.

    Goodbye, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

  11. jk says:

    Interestingly, Cameron is bring back many of Thatcher’s and Major’s former minsters as a demonstration of continuity with previous Tory governments. Is this what we want; frequent reminders of new labour’s failed policies?

    What would be good for Labour’s future success is for the old guard to shut up. Kinnock, Mandelson, Prescott, have generated negative headlines for the Labour Party over the last few days. The media are very quick to play the ‘labour split’ headline and the old guard should be reminded of their responsibilities to the Labour Party and the opportunties and advantages it has provided them with (looking at you Hutton, Hewitt, Reid, Blunkett to name just a few).

  12. Clem the Gem says:

    This is based on the false assumption that Mandleson was the architect of Labour victory in 1997 – an election that was very likely to be won by Labour whether or not New Labour existed. To take a leaf out of his own playbook, the Mandleson brand is fatally compromised in the eyes of the voters – time to ditch it and reconnect.

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