Gordon Brown’s spin doctors rushed to proclaim that Peter Mandelson’s shock return to the cabinet last week underscored the prime minister’s “pro-business” stance at a time of growing economic turmoil.
Hours before his appointment as business secretary, Mandelson was interviewed in the New Statesman magazine.
He summed up his advice to Brown as, “The government must not move to the left. Rather, it must create a fresh and coherent strategy to ‘renew New Labour’ and win the next election.”
One cabinet minister described Mandelson as “pro‑business and tough on the unions”. The minister added that Mandelson’s appointment “will light a blue touchpaper under the government”.
The CBI, British Chambers of Commerce and Federation of Small Businesses also chipped in to praise the appointment. Mandelson, we were told, was riding back to Whitehall to rescue Britain’s economy.
Mandelson was one of the architects of New Labour. He is a free market zealot. He was involved in talks with top Tories about continuing his previous job as European commissioner under a future Conservative government.
While working for the European Commission, Mandelson supported the British government’s decision to opt out of the Working Time Directive, which limited the working week in European Union countries to 48 hours.
Julian Oram, head of policy at the World Development Movement, had this to say about the new business secretary:
“Peter Mandelson’s reign in Brussels as trade commissioner has been characterised by a truly aggressive approach to trade with developing countries, and a determination to prioritise the interests of European big business at all costs.
“He has lectured and arguably bullied developing countries to accept unfair trade deals, no matter the cost to subsistence farmers and manufacturing jobs locally.”
Alistair Campbell, former chief spokesperson for Tony Blair and another key New Labour figure, is also returning to party headquarters to help restore Labour’s election fortunes. One Downing Street insider announced, “We are putting the band back together.”
The return of the Blairites is a kick in the teeth for those trade union leaders and Labour MPs who were until last weekend still insisting that Brown had shifted left during last month’s Labour conference, when he uttered some mild words of criticism of the City of London.
They were confidently predicting that Jon Cruddas, the centre left MP for Barking & Dagenham who came third in last year’s deputy leadership election, would join the cabinet.
The rumours are that Cruddas turned down a cabinet position.
He seems to be looking beyond the next general election – and calculating that service in Brown’s cabinet will do his leadership credentials more harm than good.
Yet at last month’s Labour conference there was widespread speculation that this was the best opportunity for the left in the party to make a comeback in a decade and a half.
Now we have the Blairites and Brown banding together. And that’s not the only right wing lurch in the latest government reshuffle.
Phil Woolas MP has taken over as immigration minister. Within minutes of his appointment he declared that immigration was the “probably the biggest concern facing the population” after the economy. He promised he would “toughen” up immigration laws.
Meanwhile George Howarth – one of the Labour MPs who had been leading calls for Brown to quit – has now told the parliamentary Labour Party that “hostilities are over” and that at a time of national crisis the Labour Party must come together.
The Glenrothes by-election on 6 November will be a test of whether working class Labour voters will want to “come together” with a government that puts bailing out bankers above bailing out jobs, homes and pensions.