"I don't want the Labour Party to be part of a backward-looking soap opera," David Miliband told me this afternoon, in response to a question about Peter Mandelson's gossip-ridden memoir, The Third Man, which has been serialised in the Times . I was interviewing the shadow foreign secretary and Labour leadership candidate for a forthcoming feature in the magazine.
He says he hasn't read the book, or all of the related stories in the newspapers, but added:
Peter is a very serious person and I'd imagine he wrote a very serious book.
What about the timing of the book, in the midst of this leadership campaign? The shadow foreign secretary said:
I think that people don't want a soap opera, they want something about their lives . . . We've all got a responsibility for building a Labour Party for the future.
I mentioned to Miliband how Mandelson now says he'd like to serve again in a Labour government. Ed Miliband and Andy Burnham have both ruled out an unprecedented third return to the front bench for Baron Mandelson of Foy, but David Miliband would only say:
I'm not giving out jobs . . . It would be presumptuous for me to start doling out jobs in the shadow cabinet, never mind in the cabinet. Of all the things I'm worried about in the future of the Labour Party, [I'm not worried about] whether or not Peter Mandelson will be in the next cabinet.
But then he added this clever disclaimer:
By then I'd like to have an elected House of Lords so we only have elected politicians in the cabinet.
I guess that rules out the ex-first secretary of state from a fourth spell in a Labour cabinet.
I asked Miliband, a former Downing Street aide to Tony Blair, whether he recognised the picture painted by Mandelson of Brownite aides in No 11 behaving "destructively" and running an "insurgency" against No 10, and he replied:
I worked in No 10 from 1997 to 2001 and I think it is fair to say those were the better years for accord and harmony and unity.
So an accurate description of the later years, perhaps, I asked?