Four years ago, when he was Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw accidentally shook hands with Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean President. Straw said at the time, “Because it was quite dark in that corner I was being pushed towards shaking hands with somebody just as a matter of courtesy and then it transpired it was President Mugabe".
It seemed a pretty lame excuse at the time. But this weekend’s reports of the return of the living dead to Government (in particular Peter Mandelson and unofficially Alistair Campbell), made me think of something that happened to me in the early summer. I was playing for the Parliamentary Football team at Stamford Bridge against a host of ‘celebrities’ in aid of charity. Alistair Campbell was playing on the other team and I thought to myself near the end of the game, “I am going to need a strong stomach to shake hands with him.” I decided I would avoid it.
Yet at the end of the game, I was tired, I had my head down and when I looked up there was Campbell with his hand outstretched. Much like Straw, not wishing to be rude, I took his hand but afterwards felt sick about doing so. Now I am NOT making the case that the deeds of Mugabe and Campbell are directly comparable or drawing any parallel with Zimbabwe. However, for most people in this country the return of Mandelson and Campbell to the frontline is deeply disturbing – even sickening – for British politics. It seems somehow morally wrong.
When these two characters are around words like poison, malevolent,
bully, mendacious, duplicitous, malignant and many other ugly words are
suddenly the currency of politics in both its language and its
activity. I couldn’t have put it better than Richard Littlejohn in the
Mail when he said speaking about Mandelson, “No one, with the possible
exception of Alistair Campbell, has done more to poison the well of
public life. Campbell was the sewer, but Mandelson was pure sewage.”
Both men’s tribalism means that they are prepared to do almost anything
to keep Labour and their man in power. Centuries of an independent
civil service, acting as a bulwark to politicians and their advisers,
have been subverted over the past decade, so with their hands directing
the levers of power, Government becomes a dirty, grubby, ugly business.
I fear we are about to see unprecedented levels of nastiness and poison
pouring from a Government whose survival is clearly threatened. I had
hoped we had seen the end of this after what happened to Dr David
Kelly. I thought that the death of this honorable man had finally
taught New Labour a valuable lesson about decency and honesty in public
Unfortunately it has not, the resurrection of these two from the
political dead, a bit like Frankenstein’s monster, tells you all you
need to know about Gordon Brown. I had suspected from the start that
Brown didn’t have a moral compass and that everything he does is
designed with his own self-interest and reputation in mind. I believe
that he and the country will soon profoundly regret this desperate