An Interview with Lord (Peter) Mandelson

Lord Mandelson

18th November 2016

Peter Mandelson has played a major part in British politics over the last two decades. He was influential in the rise of New Labour, and held a number of Cabinet positions under Blair and Brown. Between 2004 and 2008, he served as European Commissioner for Trade.

Q: Do you think that the Labour Party will split into two separate parties because of the direction Jeremy Corbyn is taking it in?
A: I hope not, because I think it would be a huge setback for what we stand for, and for all of the people we seek to represent in politics. At the moment, we are like two different parties co-existing in the same organisation, with very different cultures: the one strongly committed to the primacy of parliamentary democracy, the other focused on extra-parliamentary protests. This cannot go on indefinitely.

Q: Do you think that Tony Blair will return to politics?
A: In a real sense, Tony Blair has never left politics because he offers analysis and opinions which many people still respect, whilst others scorn. What’s interesting is that whether they agree with him or not, most people regard him as a strong leader.

Q: But do you have any idea whether he might return to frontline politics, perhaps to form a new party?
A: He’s given me no such clue.

When do you think Labour will next win a General Election?
A: I have to be realistic and say that to get over this period, to stabilise the party, to re-modernise it again is going to take some time.

Q: Who would you like to be the next leader of the Labour Party?
A: I have no personal preference at this time, but I see a lot of the younger generation who are competent and fit to lead.

Q: Having been EU Trade Commissioner, how easy do you think it will be for the UK to make a trade deal with the EU post-Brexit?
A: It’s going to be tough, and from Britain’s point of view as well as from Europe’s, it would be better if we stayed in Europe’s single market, with all the trading rights and preferences that comes with it, or at least in the customs’ union. Without either, our trade is bound to be hit, and our economic growth reduced.

Q: Which countries do you think it will be easiest for the UK to do trade deals with when Brexit occurs?
A: I don’t think that it’s going to be easy, as such, to do any deal, because public sentiment is not so supportive of free trade, or of free trade deals. In my view, probably the most useful and most important would be China and the United States.

Q: What have you thought of Theresa May’s premiership so far?
A: I think the problem is that she never expected to be Prime Minister at this stage in her career, and not so quickly after the referendum. Any Prime Minister takes some time to get into their stride, to create the right team, and the right mind-set. It’s a learning curve, as I know from the two Labour Prime Ministers I served, Blair and Brown.

Q: How do you think a Trump presidency will change the global geopolitical landscape?
A: I think there’s a real danger that a Trump presidency will create disorder, and that’s what I’m most nervous of.

Q: Which books would you recommend for someone my age?
A: George Orwell’s 1984, Germinal by Zola, and The Third Man by Peter Mandelson.

Q: What life lessons have you learnt over the course of your distinguished career?
A: Don’t make unnecessary enemies, but don’t be afraid to do so when absolutely necessary.

Q: What did you learn in your teenage years which you think has influenced your success?
A: To put work before pleasure, but always to look for new experiences, especially internationally.

Q: Is there anything you wish you had done which you didn’t do when you were my age?
A: I wish I had learned to play competitive sport, and a musical instrument.

Q: Who is the most interesting person that you’ve met and why?
A: I am lucky to have met many interesting people during my political career. I am spoiled for choice but Henry Kissinger comes pretty high up the list because he has such amazing historical reach as well as current knowledge, and he knows how to use both to best analytical effect, with considerable personal charm.

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