Lord Mandelson made clear in his recent autobiography that the last Labour manifesto, written by Ed Miliband, was not to his liking. It seemed to have been road-tested by Guardian columnists, he observed.
With this in mind, no one in Westminster should have been truly surprised by Lord Mandelson’s implicit decision to endorse the older, more Blairite David Miliband. Less predictable was that he would come out in public to slam the younger Ed. As Sam Coates reveals in today’s Times(£), Mandelson warned that if Mili-E wanted to “create a pre-new-Labour future” then he would quickly discover it was an “electoral cul-de-sac“. For the party to turn its back on New Labour would make it a minority force for the future, he said.
The comments would appear to be bad news for Ed Miliband, given Mandelson’s formidable reputation as a power-broker, a strategist and as a politician. Yet it is not quite so simple. Because it is the Labour movement, not the British public, that is voting in this contest. And Mandelson is still not entirely beloved in his own party, despite the overwhelming response to his conference speech a year ago.
The somewhat sinister former minister* stopped short of formally endorsing David Miliband when he spoke to a journalist in Edinburgh. That could reflect his self-awareness that in some parts of the party (the left, the unions) he is still deeply mistrusted. Putting his weight behind Mili-D could simply drive some voters into the arms of Mili-E.
The same is true of Tony Blair, who launches his own memoirs on Wednesday and will do a one-hour interview with Andrew Marr of the BBC. Blair is now such a divisive figure inside and outside Labour that his backing will not necessarily help David Miliband. After all, those who still admire and respect Blair are more likely to be Mili-D backers already. One MP who backs David for the leadership told me that it would be preferable for the prime minister to keep his thoughts to himself. Instead, expect a less explicit comment from Blair to the effect that Labour must remain a broad church.
Incidentally, we report in today’s FT that neither Miliband is guaranteed to put Ed Balls in the shadow chancellorship role – here is the story.
* An image he played up to himself in the adverts for his own book