Mandarins are used to sudden changes of direction when the government changes. But even so, it must have been disconcerting for officials at the business department to see their former boss, Lord Mandelson, walk through the glass doors of their offices today to try and pick holes in policies they are currently defending.
Lord Mandelson and Pat McFadden, the current shadow business secretary, walked into the department to review the documents behind their decision to lend £80m to Sheffield Forgemasters, a decision the coalition has now controversially rescinded.
They didn’t find much new – according to Lord M they saw documents that showed the Treasury had approved the loan, as long as it came from the Strategic Investment Fund in this financial year, and that the Industrial Development Advisory Board had said three times that the loan represented good value for money. Pat McFadden said afterwards: “Rather than continuing with wrongful statements about the project the Government should look again at this decision.”
In time-honoured Mandy fashion, this was really a PR stunt, done for the handful of cameras waiting outside to record the event. It’s a good way of keeping the story in the limelight even when nothing particular is happening. (He will be helped this evening by a special edition of Newsnight focussing on the coalition, part of which will be broadcast from Sheffield, with McFadden as a panelist. Forgemasters is bound to come up.)
Civil servants at Bis assure me this is nothing out of the ordinary, and that ministers are perfectly entitled to review their old documents. But perhaps none do it with as much accompanying fanfair as the master spinner himself. People don’t often say this, but sometimes you have to pity a mandarin’s lot.