Mandelson was one of several key individuals responsible for the rebranding of the Labour Party as New Labour
before its subsequent victory in the 1997 election
He was twice forced to resign from the Cabinet before leaving Parliament to take up an appointment as a European Commissioner. He later rejoined the Cabinet for a third time after being created a Life Peer
, sitting on the Labour benches in the House of Lords
. He is the only person to hold the position of First Secretary of State
as a Peer.
Mandelson was raised in Hampstead Garden Suburb
. He says of his childhood - "my whole upbringing was framed around the Suburb - my friendships and values".
Labour's Director of Communications
In 1986 Mandelson ran the campaign at the Fulham by-election
in which Labour defeated the Conservative Party.
For the 1987 election campaign
, Mandelson commissioned film director Hugh Hudson
, whose Chariots of Fire
(1981) had won an Oscar as Best Picture
, to make a party political broadcast
promoting Neil Kinnock
as a potential prime minister. Tagged "Kinnock – the Movie", it led to the party leader's approval rating being raised by 16%
or 19% in polls
and was even repeated in another PPB slot.
The election, held on 11 June 1987, returned Margaret Thatcher
for the third time, although Labour gained 20 seats,
and, this time, convincingly pushed the SDP-Liberal Alliance into third place. Opponents termed the Labour Party's election campaign "a brilliantly successful election defeat".
He ceased being a Labour Party official in 1990 when he was selected as Labour candidate
for the safe seat
As an MP
Following Smith's sudden death on 12 May 1994, Mandelson chose to back Blair for the leadership, believing him to be a superior communicator to Brown
and played a leading role in the leadership campaign. This created antagonism between Mandelson and Brown, though they were considered allies in the Labour Party.
In 1994 Kate Garvey
suggested that Mandelson (who was at the time being derided by the trade unions and other Labour factions), should adopt a "nom de guerre
" throughout Blair's leadership bid, so that he might conceal his considerable role within the campaign team. Mandelson agreed to be called "Bobby" for the duration and was thanked by Blair using this name in his victory speech.
After becoming a close ally and trusted adviser to Tony Blair
, Mandelson was Labour's election campaign director for the 1997 general election
, which Labour won decisively.
Minister without Portfolio
He was appointed 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). Jennie Page
, the Dome project's chief executive, was abruptly sacked after a farcical opening night.
She gave evidence to a House of Commons Select Committee for Culture and Heritage in June 2000. In what was seen as a reference to the close interest in the Dome from Mandelson, known at the time as so-called "Dome Secretary" and his successor Lord Falconer of Thoroton
, Page told the committee: "I made several attempts to persuade ministers that standing back from the Dome would be good for them as well as good for the Dome".
Mandelson bought a home in Notting Hill
in 1996 partly with an interest-free loan of £373,000 from Geoffrey Robinson
, a cabinet colleague and millionaire whose business dealings were subject to an inquiry by Mandelson's department.
Mandelson contended that he had deliberately not taken part in any decisions relating to Robinson. However, he had not declared the loan in the Register of Members' Interests
and resigned in December 1998.
Mandelson had also not declared the loan to his building society (the Britannia
) although they decided not to take any action, with the CEO stating "I am satisfied that the information given to us at the time of the mortgage application was accurate."
Mandelson initially thought he could weather the press storm, but had to resign when it became clear that the Prime Minister thought nothing else would clear the air.
In October 2000 it was reported that Robinson had "accused Peter Mandelson of lying to the Commons about the home loan affair that cost both of them their government jobs."
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
On 24 January 2001 Mandelson resigned from the Government
for a second time, following accusations of using his position to influence a passport application.
He had contacted Home Office
Minister Mike O'Brien
on behalf of Srichand Hinduja
, an Indian businessman who was seeking British citizenship and whose family firm was to become the main sponsor of the "Faith Zone" in the Millennium Dome
. At the time Hinduja and his brothers were under investigation by the Indian government for alleged involvement in the Bofors scandal
. Mandelson insisted he had done nothing wrong and was exonerated by an independent inquiry by Sir Anthony Hammond, which concluded that neither Mandelson nor anyone else had acted improperly. The front-page headline in The Independent
read in part "Passport to Oblivion".
At the 2001 general election
Mandelson was challenged by Arthur Scargill
of the Socialist Labour Party
and by John Booth, a former Labour Party press officer standing as "Genuine Labour",
but Mandelson 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'm a fighter, not a quitter"
and referred to his "inner steel".
Stepping down as MP
Despite Labour success in the June 2001 general election, a third Cabinet appointment did not materialise and he indicated his interest in becoming the United Kingdom's European Commissioner
when the new Commission
was established in 2004. Both of Britain's Commissioners, Neil Kinnock
and Chris Patten
, were due to stand down. Appointment as a European Commissioner would require his resignation from Parliament precipitating a by-election
in his Hartlepool constituency. His appointment was announced in the summer and on 8 September 2004 Mandelson resigned his seat by submitting his name as Steward of the Manor of Northstead
Labour won the subsequent Hartlepool by-election
with a much-reduced majority of 2,033 votes (equating to 40.7% of the vote).
He was succeeded as MP for Hartlepool by Iain Wright
On 22 November 2004 Mandelson became Britain's European Commissioner, taking the trade portfolio
In October 2008 he left his post as Trade Commissioner to return to UK politics. As a former EU Commissioner, Lord Mandelson is entitled to a £31,000 pension when he reaches the age of 65 years. It was claimed by Christopher Hope of the Daily Telegraph
in 2009 that Mandelson's pension was contingent on a "duty of loyalty to the Communities", which also applied after his term in office.
The Taxpayers' Alliance
, which was reported to have uncovered the threat to his pension, demanded that he should declare the conflict of interest and either relinquish his EU pay cheques or resign as a minister
. "When one considers that his new ministerial post deals specifically with business, enterprise and regulatory reform – all areas that are intimately involved with EU legislation, regulation and policy –" the group said, "the conflict of interest is even more stark." Mandelson did not agree that he had a conflict of interests. "He has always had a clear view of British interests and how they are secured by our EU membership," a spokesperson said.
The website Full Fact
reported in 2019 that the claim was untrue, stating that while there are rules governing the conduct of current and former EU staff members, which can lead to pensions sanctions, the European Commission had informed them that it would be “probably impossible” for such people to lose their pension for criticising the EU or supporting Brexit. Full Fact also pointed out that there had been multiple cases of both current and ex-commissioners criticising the EU - in April 2019, German former Commissioner Günter Verheugen
criticised the EU’s Brexit negotiating position, saying “the problem is on the EU side”, while in 2017 British former Commissioner Lord Hill
had supported “getting on” with Brexit.
Peerage and return to Cabinet
Mandelson (left) with Gordon Brown
at the Progressive Governance Conference, February 2010.
Following his return to office, Mandelson supported the planned Heathrow expansion
On 6 March 2009, environmental protester Leila Deen
of anti-aviation group Plane Stupid
approached him outside a summit on the government's low carbon industrial strategy and threw a cup of green custard in his face in protest over his support for a third runway at Heathrow Airport. The protester was cautioned on 9 April for causing "harassment, alarm or distress".
Mandelson was a member of 35 of the 43 Cabinet committees and subcommittees.
In August 2009 Mandelson was widely reported to have ordered "technical measures" such as internet disconnection to be included in the draft of the Digital Economy Act 2010
after a "big lobbying operation", even though the Digital Britain
report had rejected this type of punishment. The Independent
reported that according to their Whitehall sources, Mandelson was persuaded that tough laws were needed to reduce online copyright infringement following an intensive lobbying campaign by influential people in the music and film industry.
The paper also reported that this included a meeting with DreamWorks
co-founder David Geffen
at the Rothschild family
villa on the Greek island of Corfu. Mandelson's spokesperson claimed that there had been no discussion of internet piracy during the Corfu dinner and suggested that the decision to reverse Lord Carter's findings had been taken in late July before the trip. The Times
reported after the Corfu meeting that an unnamed Whitehall source had confirmed that before this trip, Mandelson had shown little personal interest in the Digital Britain agenda, which has been ongoing for several years. According to the source of The Times
, Mandelson returned from holiday and effectively issued an edict that the regulation needed to be tougher.
In August 2011 a Freedom of Information
(FOI) request showed that Mandelson had decided to approve the inclusion of technical measures, such as the disconnection of internet access, at least two months before public consultation had finished and that he had shown little interest in the consultation. Letters from Mandelson's office document talks with Lucian Grainge
, CEO of Universal Music Group
, on 2 June 2009 and that on the following day Mandelson advised Lord Carter
about the "possibility of [the Secretary of State] having a power to direct Ofcom to go directly to introduce technical measures". Mandelson made the formal announcement that technical measures, including disconnection, were to be included in the Digital Economy Bill two months later on 7 August 2009.
An opinion poll conducted by the centre-left think tank Compass
found in March 2009 that Mandelson was less disliked by party members than Deputy Leader Harriet Harman
. This was felt to be unusual as Mandelson "historically has been unpopular among Labour members".Tony Blair
's assertion in 1996 that "my project will be complete when the Labour Party learns to love Peter Mandelson"
was seen as prophetic in late September 2009 when Mandelson was enthusiastically received at the party conference
In 1999, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 Mandelson was an invited guest of the Bilderberg Group
and attended the annual conferences.
Labour leadership of Jeremy Corbyn
After the 2015 Labour leadership election
resulted in Jeremy Corbyn
becoming the party leader
, Mandelson stated that he believed that Labour was now unelectable, but advised party members unhappy with the situation to wait for Corbyn to demonstrate this before working to replace him.
He wished for an early general election to force Corbyn out.
In February 2017, he said Corbyn had "no idea in the 21st century how to conduct himself as a leader of a party putting itself forward in a democratic election" and "I work every single day to bring forward the end of [Corbyn's] tenure in office".
After the results of the 2017 general election
became known, Mandelson conceded that Corbyn's election campaign was "very sure footed" and the result, in which Labour gained seats and denied the Conservatives a majority, unexpected.
"I was wrong" about Corbyn, he told BBC News
. "I am very surprised, an earthquake has happened in British politics and I did not foresee it", although he doubted Corbyn's ability to gain a Commons majority.
Two years later, in the 2019 general election, Labour suffered their worst defeat since the 1930s.
Mandelson described the result as "not undeserved", arguing that Corbyn's leadership as one of the main reasons for Labour's defeat.
Following the referendum, Mandelson was an outspoken supporter of a second referendum.
After Roberto Azevêdo
announced he would step down as Director-General of the World Trade Organisation
(WTO) in September 2020, Mandelson declared his interest in running to succeed him. He proceeded to lobby governments around the world for the job,
arguing that the WTO had "reached a fork in the road" and had to be "picked up and put back on its feet".
Mandelson was overlooked in favour of the Conservative Liam Fox
due to his opposition to Brexit.
His candidacy ended when Fox beat him to win the nomination of the UK government.
Labour leadership of Keir Starmer
In 2021 it was reported that Mandelson had been advising Labour leader Keir Starmer
on moving the party beyond Corbyn's leadership and broadening its electoral appeal.
During the 2009 expenses scandal The Daily Telegraph
raised questions about the timing of Mandelson's second home allowance claim, dating from 2004, saying, "Lord Mandelson billed the taxpayer for almost £3,000 of work on his constituency home in Hartlepool less than a week after announcing his decision to stand down as an MP." Mandelson said in a statement, "The work done was necessary maintenance. All claims made were reasonable and submitted consistent with parliamentary rules."
On 22 April 2005 The Times
revealed that Mandelson had spent the previous New Year's Eve on the yacht of Paul Allen
, the co-founder of Microsoft
, which was at the centre of a major EU investigation and although it did not allege impropriety, it did state that Mandelson's visit was inappropriate for a serving European Commissioner.
During the summer of 2008 Mandelson had a widely publicised disagreement with Nicolas Sarkozy
, President of France
Sarkozy accused him of trying to sell out European farmers and appeared to blame his handling of the Doha round of trade talks for the "no" vote in the Irish referendum
on the Treaty of Lisbon
. Mandelson said his position at world trade talks had been undermined and told the BBC
he did not start the row, saying, "I stood up for myself, I'm not to be bullied." He said he believed the row was over but renewed his warnings on protectionism
In 2008 Mandelson was hospitalised, suffering from a kidney stone. At this time, melamine
added to milk in China
had caused kidney stones and other ailments in thousands of Chinese children, killing at least six. Ironically, during the previous week Mandelson had drunk a glass of Chinese yoghurt in front of reporters in order to show his confidence in Chinese dairy products, although his own kidney stones were unrelated.
In October 2008 Mandelson was reported to have maintained private contacts over several years with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska
, most recently on holiday in August 2008 on Deripaska's yacht at Taverna Agni on the Greek island of Corfu
News of the contacts sparked criticism because, as European Union Trade Commissioner, Mandelson had been responsible for two decisions to cut aluminium tariffs that had benefited Deripaska's United Company RusAl
Mandelson denied that there had been a conflict of interest
and insisted that he had never discussed aluminium tariffs with Deripaska.
On 26 October 2008 the Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague
claimed the "whole country" wanted "transparency" about Mandelson's previous meetings with Deripaska. In response, Prime Minister Gordon Brown
said Mandelson's dealings with Deripaska had been "found to be above board".
Mandelson said that meeting business figures from "across the range" in emerging economies was part of his brief as EU Trade Commissioner.
On 29 October 2008, while Mandelson was on a ministerial visit to Moscow,
it was alleged in the British press that Valery Pechenkin
, the head of security at Deripaska's company Basic Element, had organised a swift entry visa for Mandelson when he turned up in Moscow
to visit Deripaska in 2005.
In April 2014 it was reported that Mandelson had strong ties to Russian conglomerate Sistema
In 2011, Mandelson was guest of honour at Herbert Morrison Primary School in Vauxhall, South London. The school was hosting a special themed day in honour of Mandelson's grandfather, Herbert Morrison, after whom the school was named.
Mandelson is gay and he is said to be 'intensely private' about his personal life.
During his time as a former government leader, the press – tabloid and broadsheet alike – often portrayed Mandelson as effeminate through "the linguistic resources of camp" (as evidenced through his common nickname, 'Mandy') and narcissistic – sometimes including coded references to homosexual acts in their descriptions of his actions.
He has lived with his life partner Reinaldo Avila da Silva, a Portuguese-English
translator, since March 1998.
Attempted outings and harassment
While his sexual orientation was known to friends, colleagues and constituents, in 1987 the News of the World
ran an issue that attempted to out Mandelson as gay.
Mandelson preferred to keep his personal life private and as such did not respond.
Mandelson was outed again by Matthew Parris
in 1998 on the BBC programme Newsnight
This led to press harassment of his partner, with the Daily Express
sending a reporter to take pictures of him while he was at his languages course.
An internal investigation later found that the photos had been obtained without Avila da Silva's consent and images of him attempting to cover his face had been secretly deleted. Mandelson phoned the BBC and the Press Complaints Commission
and an internal memo was later sent within the BBC, stating that "Under no circumstances whatsoever should allegations about the private life of Peter Mandelson be repeated or referred to on any broadcast."
In the media
He was made a Life peer
by Gordon Brown in 2008
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- Rawnsley, Andrew (2001): Servants of the People: The Inside Story of New Labour Penguin Books, ISBN 0-14-027850-8
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- Seldon, Anthony (2005): Blair The Free Press, ISBN 0-7432-3212-7
Last edited on 11 May 2021, at 14:29
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