JOHN HUMPHRYS: At the root of all this
discontent is the suspicion of New Labour. Until now, old Labour has been
prepared to give Tony Blair the benefit of the doubt because he's done
what they failed to do - win two elections with thumping majorities. But
now it seems they're saying: New Labour must become more like Old Labour.
So what should Mr Blair do given that? Should he continue to govern the
country as New Labour or will he have to change direction. The man who's
regarded as the architect, the godfather of New Labour is Peter Mandelson
and he's with me now.
Good morning Mr Mandelson.
PETER MANDELSON: Good morning Mr Humphrys.
HUMPHRYS: Good to see you. Something
must be done, mustn't it?
MANDELSON: Yes, but can I just make a point
about your package of interviews. I hadn't realised before I viewed it,
that as a government grows older and older, five years now, this government,
it collects a stream of Exs, ex-ministers, ex-Downing Street advisors...
HUMPHRYS: ...you hadn't realised
that. I don't believe you!
MANDELSON: No, I hadn't realised it to
this extent. I just want to say as a serial ex myself, ex-minister, it
is not a club I am going to join of those critics. But I do think the package
illustrates something else.
HUMPHRYS: Before you move on to
the next bit, you're not just dismissing them as a bunch of malcontents
are you. They are serious people with serious concerns aren't they.
MANDELSON: No, for this reason I want to
add. I think that what the interviews showed and I think it was a serious
and substantial piece of journalism incidentally, is the difference between
real issues on the one hand, I mean real policy dilemmas on which the different
and sometimes conflicting views of Labour Members of Parliament, can and
should be heard on the one hand, and froth on the other - all the chatter
and the other stuff that occupies people within the Westminster bubble.
And I think what the government has got to do, and what the Party has got
to do is to concentrate on the real issues which do involve, as I say,
real policy dilemmas for us to address. We have to navigate all sorts of
hurdles and bumps in the road, that's what government is about, as Helen
Liddell was saying, I thought most persuasively and cogently, but let's
forget the froth and concentrate on the hard issues.
HUMPHRYS: But might it be, might
some of this discontent be clearly there are worries about specific issues.
But what's happened in the Labour Party and you, as I say, was the architect
of New Labour in many ways, a lot of Labour MPs, as you hardly need me
telling you, a lot of Members of the Labour Party, never took to New Labour,
Tony Blair himself acknowledged that, you have acknowledged that. So, in
some ways, you don't have the deep roots in the Party that you need when
times get difficult - is that a worry?
MANDELSON: I don't think it's true, if
it were true it would be a worry, but I don't think it is true.
HUMPHRYS: You don't think that
... film illustrated that that's what's beginning to happen now?
MANDELSON: No, I don't think there are
people questioning you know the principles, or the model of New Labour.
I think what they are doing is addressing, you know difficult issues where
of course it will be more comfortable for example, you know, you to side
with the Post Office unions, you know, for the short term security of their
members, but we all know that the problems of the Post Office, as Helen
Liddell was saying, are rather more complex than that. It would be more
comfortable, you know, to say to workers: we will give you all the rights
that you want. But, we know that the realities of economics and business
life and particularly for small and medium sized businesses are more complex
than that. It would be more comfortable for example, you know, to side
with the anti-Americanism that is popular at the moment, but that wouldn't
provide you with a solution to what to do about Saddam Hussein's weapons
of mass destruction. So, you know, you can retreat into these sort of comfortable
nostrums and these comfortable positions, but they don't actually give
you the answer to resolving these difficult policy dilemmas and I think
most people would believe that New Labour does provide the model, or the
framework of policy within which we can resolve these dilemmas, without,
as I say, retreating into these sort of nostrums and slogans of the past.
HUMPHRYS: Ian Davidson, you heard
him there say it's the whole drift of the government that's wrong.
MANDELSON: Yes, well Ian Davidson's entitled
to his opinion but I don't think you should necessarily assume that Ian
Davidson speaks for a majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party. But one
thing I am sure about, if I can just say this, if there is a problem, I
think that New Labour has to address it, really in two ways. First of all
I think New Labour has got to be much more intellectually self-confident
about what it is, where it comes from. We have re-configured our politics
in this country, the way in which people look at it and talk about economics,
the Welfare State, the balance of rights and responsibilities in our society,
the decentralisation of government, our country's relationship with Europe
and the new internationalism. Now, that re-configuration of politics is
recognised, you know, across the country and outside this country, I think
we should be more intellectually and politically self-confident and assertive
in setting out what we have done and where we have come from.
HUMPHRYS: In what sense are you
not self-confident then?
MANDELSON: I think there are some people
who are easily knocked back. I think there are people who when they encounter
a sort of bump in the road, or a hurdle, or an obstacle, you know, shrink
back away from it rather than, you know discussing in a calm way and keeping
HUMPHRYS: ....in Government, you
MANDELSON: No, I think possibility some
people in the Government and some people in the Parliamentary Labour Party,
but I think there's another issue as well and I think it relates to this.
I feel that sometimes when ministers and others of us in the Parliamentary
Party, and I speak as a backbencher now like all the others on your film,
when we talk about these issues and address these policy dilemmas we are
too technocratic and insufficiently political. I think we need to be
more political, I think we need to be more direct, more convincing and
possibly more honest in the way in which we, you know, bring out the difficulties
and the complexities in some of these issues that we are wrestling with
and I think that whereas the government has and it is right to have done
so, to a very large extent put that sort of age of spin behind it, I think
it now has to consolidate that.
HUMPHRYS: So there's still too
MANDELSON: Well, I mean you ask that question
without a smile on your face to me, and I would say that there is not too
much spin, I would say that the emphasis of our communications has to be
altogether more political, more articulate, more convincing. We've got
to bring out the different shades and the complexities of the policy areas
we're dealing with, but if we do that and I think that the government should,
I hope that that will elicit a different response from the media. I would
like to see a different sense of balance, of perspective introduced by
the media when treating some of these complex political issues, and I think
that if the government in a sense, you know, convincingly puts that sort
of age of spin behind it, which I believe the government should do, and
from the media we elicit a response which is, which has greater perspective,
is more responsible and accurate, reporting of these complex political
issues. Then I think we have a basis of a new and different settlement
if you like between the government and the media, from the government greater
openness, and from the media a greater sense of proportion in reporting
and analysing politics.
HUMPHRYS: It may be obviously that
the media responds the way it does if your characterisation of it is accurate, because
there has in the past been so much spin, and there is now a degree of suspicion
that there might not otherwise have been, if you'd been to use a word that
you used in that answer, more honest in the past.
MANDELSON: Well, it may or may not be.
I think that the government is absolutely right to have introduced the
professionalism and discipline in its communications that it has. I think
it's right that you introduce from the outset, from the beginning of a
policy-making process and its presentation, how you're going to engage
the public, how you're going to communicate with the public some of the
shades and complexities of the issues you're dealing with, but if in the
process of doing that, what you get from the media is a sort of synthetic
anger and a sort of hysteria, a sort of you know, going completely over
the top as if you can treat these issues in a completely and purely black
and white way.
HUMPHRYS: Yeah, but the trouble
MANDELSON: ....what happens then is that
the government then sort of retreats and puts its defences up, the media
then becomes all the more irritated and annoyed that they're sort of not
getting at the real people and the real issues. You then have this sort
of stand-off and sort of stalemate which I think characterises the relationship
between the government and the media at the moment.
HUMPHRYS: If you're told that the
solutions are simple and straightforward and relatively easy and will be
delivered, and then those answers are not there, the problems are not solved,
then it's understandable that people become frustrated isn't it?
MANDELSON: Yes, but I don't think the government
are saying things are simple and straightforward. I mean on the contrary,
the way in which we are bringing investment and reform to public services,
you know is not simple and straightforward, nor is it achieved overnight.
They way in which the government is tackling poverty, the way in which
the government is creating a new internationalism in the world order, that's
not something which achieved overnight, and so people have to remain yes
calm, yes patient, yes debate these issues, but above all keep their nerve
because these things take time to deliver.
HUMPHRYS: There are signs and only
signs, freely acknowledge that, that Tony Blair's star is waning a bit,
popularity seems to be disappearing a bit if we are to believe the recent
polls anyway and some of the things that are being said in Westminster.
You may say that's Westminster froth and the Westminster bubble and all
that, but nonetheless obviously every politician's time comes eventually.
Tony Blair has achieved wonderful things for the Labour Party, nobody
can dispute that. Margaret Thatcher made the mistake didn't she, it turned
out to be a great mistake of saying "I'll go on and on and on" and in
the end she was thrown out. The time does come doesn't it when a leader,
however successful he may have been, has to say well maybe, I'd better
start thinking about it.
MANDELSON: I'm sure that will be the case
with this Prime Minister like every other, but Tony Blair is a long way
off from that point which Mrs Thatcher reached - what ten years down the
line when everyone was just sort of hoping that she would go, and go quietly
and quickly. I think that all this stuff about Tony Blair is a gigantic
great wind-up and we shouldn't be seduced by it.
HUMPHRYS: Peter Mandelson, thanks
very much indeed.