Mandy Plays Hard Ball

UNDERSTANDABLY given the unique stance adopted by Red Action at the outset of the initial cease-fire in 1994, there was much head scratching at an editorial level, (as no doubt there was in Army Council circles) in an effort to figure out what precisely Mandelson thought he was doing when he unilaterally undermined the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) apparently on a whim? Was he authentically Machiavellian, or simply off his chump? Was it an arbitrary decision or part of some wider Brit cunning? Was he his own man, or a somewhat exotic creature of the securocracy? Dangerously shrewd or dangerously simple?

As a career move playing ‘hard ball’ with the IRA is hardly to be recommended. So on what basis did he, Peter Mandelson, even imagine he would get them to cry uncle? These are afterall the same men who tried to blow up the British Cabinet and assassinate the Prime Minster, not once, but twice since Labour had last been in office. Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness was himself, it is reputed, (have to be careful of the libel laws here: see LM. Ed) to have even been IRA Chief of Staff when the Grand Hotel extravaganza was sanctioned in l984. “Rising up through the ranks of the IRA in the face of the military onslaught of the British State is” as the author Kevin Toolis observed “a wholly different political contest from charming a few old trade unionists at your selection committee.” Charming is of course how Mandelson likes to think of himself, but he will have few genuine admirers within the trade unions. Trade unions are anathema to a man who once famously asked for ‘glacoumola’ (sorry, not entirely sure what it is actually) instead of mushy peas, in some chippy up north.

In point of fact Mandy built his C.V. through opposing union influence within the Labour Party. Is it even faintly realistic, given his apparent success then, it could have formed the basis for his stratagem to outflank the Republican Movement now? To think so would of course imply an almost incredible shallowness on his part would it not? Shallow or not, steadiness under fire so to speak is not in any case a characteristic. Shortly after arriving in ‘the Province’ he was confronted by a baying Loyalist mob, who made among other things their tacit endorsement of ‘The Save Ulster from Sodomy’ campaign fairly plain. “Mandelson looked absolutely terrified,” commented one reporter. On another occasion, when braving a picket from the other end of the political spectrum, and though this time not even baying, caused nonetheless further quivers in the upper lip. Even when safely inside the hall, Mandy still ‘fidgeted nervously’ as an unseemly scrum developed at the door between those who Republican News referred to neutrally as ‘RUC mutton heads’ and four SF councillors seemingly intent on gate-crashing.

What follows is a verbatim account of events inside: “Who are those people?” Mandy asked. “Sinn Fein councillors who want to come in,” he was told. “Why?” Mandy asked. Because they’re local reps and they’ve been invited. Mandy, decidedly not at home with this, asked: “Are they going to be rowdy? Do they want to protest?” Perhaps I’ll ask them offered a local community figure. “Do you trust them?” Mandy asked apprehensively. All right so maybe he’s not exactly officer material, you wouldn’t want him at Roark’s Drift, or rush to put a fiver on him in a ‘straightener’ with Gerry Kelly say, but none of that in itself proves him intellectually vacuous. Or does it? On February 20 The Sunday Telegraph, arch opponent of the GFA, but just as confused by the turn in events as the rest of us, opted for a little detective work on the man behind the ‘Prince of Darkness’ legend. Oddly, Mandy is rarely quoted. But any suspicions that his understanding of the subtleties might have been fatally ‘overrated’ were batted away by ‘friends’. Explaining a particularly undiplomatic row with SF negotiators, who publicly accused Mandelson of having come over all colonial, of being ‘arrogant and patronising’, the friend remarked: “he [Mandy] KNEW they would do something like that”, stressing that “anyone versed in Labour politics can see miles ahead, and take it in his stride.”

Returning to the damning analogy a little later he offered: “This whole crisis has been littered by crises followed by successes, the idea of three steps forward two steps back is not that different to modernising Labour during the last 15 years.” ‘Not that different’! Too jaw-droppingly unbelievable maybe. But then as Sherlock Homes oft repeated: “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” And however improbable it might still appear, if Mandy, in addition to being all round a bit of a big girls blouse, is also just short of being ‘dolly dimple’ strategically, the wider implications for the party he helped shape in his own image speak eloquently for themselves. Who after all would take seriously the advice of someone, who, as must now be suspected actually coined the nickname ‘Prince of Darkness’ - for himself!

Reproduced from RA Volume 4, Issue 6, April/May '00