I was astonished to see Peter Mandelson appointed to the cabinet by Gordon Brown this morning. Mandelson’s views on Brown are, by his own account, unprintable. When I interviewed him in Brussels about 18 months ago – just before Brown became prime minister, this is what Mandy had to say:
“Given the schism that was created between us in 1994 when Blair became leader, if I said something nice about Gordon Brown, you wouldn’t believe it. And if I said something nasty, you would just think it was a grudge. So it’s better just to say nothing.”
So what might have drawn the two men back together again? Desperation, frankly. Mandelson is desperate to get out of Brussels, which he finds boring and depressing. And given the failure of the Doha round, his job as EU trade commissioner is increasingly pointless.
Well, I have just finished watching the vice-presidential debate – and I must admit I feel a bit cheated. I didn’t tune in because I was hoping for enlightenment. I wanted car-crash television: gaffes galore, the implosion of Sarah Palin, something weird from Joe Biden. But judged by those standards the debate was a huge disappointment. Palin was, of course, profoundly unimpressive. But she didn’t mess up – she even managed to say “Ahmadinejad”, without stumbling or hesitating. And Biden also avoided any of his trademark gaffes.
The fact that both candidates will be judged to have done OK is – I think – a sorry commentary on how low expectations have sunk. Because by any reasonable standard, it was a pretty sorry performance. Neither candidate even came close to answering the first question, on whether the House of Representatives had been right to reject the bail-out bill. At that point, I longed for the moderator to jump right in and do a Jeremy Paxman – and insist, preferably with a sneer, that they actually answer the question. But no such luck.
So what did we learn? Well, it turns out that both candidates hate Wall Street and Iran; and love Israel and the American middle-class.