Exclusive: What Mandelson really thinks of Cameron

The paperback edition of Peter Mandelson’s autobiography, The Third Man, will be published on Monday; here, in exclusive extracts to Left Foot Forward, he reveals what he really thinks of David Cameron.

The paperback edition of Peter Mandelson’s autobiography, The Third Man, will be published on Monday, containing a new preface which brings the edition up to date, covering the Labour party’s leadership election and the impact on Britain of the coalition government; here, in exclusive extracts to Left Foot Forward, Lord Mandleson reveals what he really thinks of David Cameron


On Cameron’s attempt to mimic new Labour…

[By the time we reached the 2010 election…] we were seen as having moved away from where the bulk of mainstream voters place themselves – in the aspirational centre ground of politics. That, of course, was precisely where David Cameron had dragged the Tories, to the squealing disapproval of many on his party’s right.

Like Tony Blair, he recognised that just about anyone under the age of forty, and many above it, wanted a combination of economic and social liberalism. That is what New Labour offered. It was what Cameron – minus the baggage of his party’s intolerant right wing– wanted to offer too… (p.xxx)

As Cameron and his team woke up to the scale and ambition of our original (New Labour) project, they realised the extent of the changes they too had to make to put them on the road back to power. (p.xxxi)

On Cameron’s “big tent” and relief in not being invited to enter it…

I can well understand why Cameron, in a further cloning of our own overtures to policy experts across party divides, included a ‘big tent’ approach to involve serious Labour policy minds like John Hutton on pensions and Frank Field on welfare among his early moves. I do not feel that agreeing to advise the coalition on issues that we too think are important is a great political crime, especially when the people concerned are not being asked to contribute to the debate about their own party’s future.

I admit to a sense of relief, however, that despite media speculation, I was not put on the spot by receiving such an invitation. (p.xxxvi)

On Cameron’s strengths and weaknesses…

Indeed, the more some Tories on the right pushed back, the more authentic Cameron’s moves appeared, just as those on the left who argued against New Labour had helped to reinforce the changes Tony was making. From early on, I saw, and tried to persuade Labour colleagues, that Cameron was not just another right-wing Tory leader.

If only because of his distinctly Blair-like talent as a political communicator, I also felt we would fail if we simply relied on our efforts to convince the country that he was some sort of clever charlatan.

I did question whether in reality he had the desire, or the ability, to follow through with the kind of profound, longer-term change in his party – a shift not just in political position but in ideology – that we had achieved in New Labour. From his early record in government, however, you have to give him points for trying, at least. Indeed, I suspect that he is temperamentally more at ease in leading a coalition than he would be leading a government of his own party. (p.xxxii)

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