Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Monday, 5 July 2010

Mandy's million-pound free-for-all

You know those stories where a wronged woman takes spectacular revenge on an unfaithful partner? Cuts the sleeves off his suits, or sells his car for £10, or gives away the contents of his wine cellar?

According to the Sunday Times*, that’s pretty much how Peter Mandelson spent the run-up to the election, with ‘spent’ being the operative word.

During the final year of the Labour government, Mandelson’s department ran up liabilities worth hundreds of millions, promising money that technically didn’t exist and overruling opposition from civil servants including his permanent secretary.

So was it a last-ditch attempt to buy votes – promising Vauxhall £270m to keep open a plant in a Labour marginal, for instance – or a vicious revenge on an ungrateful electorate? Or was it, as the Times has it, just a straightforward scorched earth policy?

Back in my Labour activist days, the accepted wisdom was that exercising political power was only half the battle; it was also essential to sabotage the activities of the other side, in power or out of it – hence the vilification of Frank Field for his unorthodox belief that serving the public is his primary concern.

Now there’s to be a Treasury investigation and report into this affair, while Mandelson is preparing to publish his version of events in his forthcoming memoirs. The two should make for interesting comparison in the months ahead.

*Paywall - no link. And a caveat - I haven't seen this story anywhere else, although the fact that the short article was credited to three journalists may mean there's more to come. The BBC, meanwhile, is concentrating on the cuts to school buildings funding.

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