What is it about Peter Mandelson? He attracts controversy the way Northern Ireland’s criminal lawyers attract fat cheques.
He just cannot help being at the centre of some intrigue or other. Given that he has twice had to resign from government office because of unacceptable behaviour, it would not be unnatural to suppose that the good Lord Mandelson would attempt to steer clear of any dodgy company.
Not at all, if the stories about Shadow Chancellor George Osborne and Russia’s richest man Oleg Deripaska are remotely true. It is claimed that Osborne solicited a donation from Deripaska, not an offence in itself, but, if true, showing a distinct lack of judgement.
Political parties in the UK are not allowed to accept donations from people not registered to vote in UK elections, although they can accept money channelled through companies that operate in Britain.
That, according to one version of the events involving Mr Osborne, is what the Shadow Chancellor had suggested. Of course, he strongly denies that he did any such thing.
What is interesting is that Lord Mandelson, then just plain Peter and the EU Trade Commissioner, was in the same company. He spent some time with Mr Osborne as well as high rollers like financier Nat Rothschild, a member of the legendary banking dynasty, media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, and Mr Deripaska.
There is no suggestion that Lord Mandelson was in any way involved in discussions about a donation, but why was he there at all? Some national commentators are keen to suggest that he had a much longer relationship with Mr Deripaska than had Mr Osborne. Lord Mandelson says he was merely in Corfu to attend the birthday party of Rupert Murdoch's daughter.
Not wishing to enhance the wealth of any lawyers, it must be stressed that if there are any allegations of sleaze they must be directed at Mr Osborne and not Lord Mandelson. While it is accepted that no money was in fact offered to the Tory Party or came to it, the suggestion from Mr Rothschild, a lifelong friend of Mr Osborne, that the Shadow Chancellor solicited a donation is hugely damaging, not only to him personally, but also to the party.
The reaction of many people will be that the Tories are attracted to money in the same way that moths love the light. They will say that the sleaze that destroyed the last Tory government hasn’t totally gone away.
Mr Osborne is a good friend of Tory leader David Cameron and any fall-out from the allegations levelled at the Shadow Chancellor can only be damaging to the party. In recent years Mr Cameron has made a decent fist at making the Conservatives a party ready for government again — although he was aided by Gordon Brown’s seeming determination to prove that Labour was no longer fit for government.
Now the positions have been reversed to an extent. The Prime Minister has regained a lot of his authority, and no little respect, through his handling of the recent banking crisis. These allegations of Tory sleaze are just the icing on the cake and are bound to have narrowed the gap in the opinion polls.
But then there is always Lord Mandelson. This time, apparently, he is merely a bystander in a juicy political saga. Bringing him back into the Cabinet was a risky gamble by the Prime Minister. They have never been close. Lord Mandelson has great organisational flair and his much-vaunted “dark arts” are admired even by his sternest critics. Yet somehow you always feel that trouble is just around the corner when he is about.Lord Mandelson — ‘dark arts’ master