The Third Man by Peter Mandelson

When New Labour was in power, it was always hard to separate truth from fiction. The project dominated the British political landscape, despite apparent failures in terms of democracy, equality, ecology and planning. Only the relative success in Northern Ireland endured as a lasting legacy, while the catastrophe of Iraq underlined the disconnect between the political class and the people. If New Labour had been less mendacious, the appeal of Jeremy Corbyn would not have been so strong.

As an experienced manipulator of the media, Peter Mandelson must have been familiar with the maxim that when you’re in a hole, stop digging. Hence the rationale behind this defensive and defiant text is hard to fathom. Nevertheless, the succinctness of the narrative and the insight into the unrepentant mindset of a Third Way politician makes the book into an oddly compelling read.

While Mandelson generally privileged communication over policy, his story shows how New Labour was original in that it took its core supporters for granted until the Great Recession. By trying to occupy the media-defined centre ground at all costs, its competing architects made principle into a dirty word. Their lack of appreciation for the intelligence of ordinary citizens is evident:

“For voters, feelings prevail over beliefs. People may be torn between their head and their heart, but ultimately it is their gut feeling that is decisive: they vote for the candidate who elicits the right feelings, not necessarily the one who presents the right arguments.”

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