Mandelson begins to spin his way out of defeat

The Business Secretary suggests making Cameron PM would be a kind of victory for New Labour.

Regardless of the outcome of this election, Peter Mandelson is already trying to spin his way out of defeat. Here's what the silver-tongued First Secretary recently told the NS editor, Jason Cowley:

The point about the Conservatives is that they believe they cannot win an election by running against New Labour. They are for the political landscape that we have created.

The whole point of Cameron's Conservatives is to market his party in a way that leads people to believe they've put their past behind them, that they're a continuum of New Labour.

They are not, as it happens. But the fact that they feel they can only win power by marketing themselves in that way says a lot about the strength of New Labour.

You'll be able to read more from Mandelson in Jason's interview with Gordon Brown for this week's magazine (out tomorrow).

As he writes, it does seem like an attempt by Mandelson "to claim a kind of victory even in defeat". He speaks with the pride of a teacher whose textbook (The Blair Revolution Revisited) has been eagerly devoured, even if not all of the lessons have been learned.

Yet key figures on Labour's centre left, such as Jon Cruddas, argue that the similarities between Cameron's Conservatives and New Labour represent a defeat, not a victory for the party. It is because Labour has been insufficiently bold that the Tories have succeeded in masquerading as progressive, even while pledging to cut taxes for millionaires.

We can expect this division, between those who feel flattered and those who feel enraged by Cameron's rise, to be at the centre of any future Labour leadership contest.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Beware, hard Brexiteers - Ruth Davidson is coming for you

The Scottish Conservative leader is well-positioned to fight. 

Wanted: Charismatic leader with working-class roots and a populist touch who can take on the Brexiteers, including some in the government, and do so convincingly.

Enter Ruth Davidson. 

While many Tory MPs quietly share her opposition to a hard Brexit, those who dare to be loud tend to be backbenchers like Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan. 

By contrast, the Scottish Conservative leader already has huge credibility for rebuilding her party north of the border. Her appearances in the last days of the EU referendum campaign made her a star in the south as well. And she has no qualms about making a joke at Boris Johnson’s expense

Speaking at the Institute of Directors on Monday, Davidson said Brexiteers like Nigel Farage should stop “needling” European leaders.

“I say to the Ukip politicians, when they chuckle and bray about the result in June, grow up,” she declared. “Let us show a bit more respect for these European neighbours and allies.”

Davidson is particularly concerned that Brexiteers underestimate the deeply emotional and political response of other EU nations. 

The negotiations will be 27 to 1, she pointed out: “I would suggest that macho, beer swilling, posturing at the golf club bar isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

At a time when free trade is increasingly a dirty word, Davidson is also striking in her defence of the single market. As a child, she recalls, every plate of food on the table was there because her father, a self-made businessman, had "made stuff and sold it abroad". 

She attacked the Daily Mail for its front cover branding the judges who ruled against the government’s bid to trigger Article 50 “enemies of the people”. 

When the headline was published, Theresa May and Cabinet ministers stressed the freedom of the press. By contrast, Davidson, a former journalist, said that to undermine “the guardians of our democracy” in this way was “an utter disgrace”. 

Davidson might have chosen Ukip and the Daily Mail to skewer, but her attacks could apply to certain Brexiteers in her party as well. 

When The Staggers enquired whether this included the Italy-baiting Foreign Secretary Johnson, she launched a somewhat muted defence.

Saying she was “surprised by the way Boris has taken to the job”, she added: “To be honest, when you have got such a big thing happening and when you have a team in place that has been doing the preparatory work, it doesn’t make sense to reshuffle the benches."

Nevertheless, despite her outsider role, the team matters to Davidson. Part of her electoral success in Scotland is down the way she has capitalised on the anti-independence feeling after the Scottish referendum. If the UK heads for a hard Brexit, she too will have to fend off accusations that her party is the party of division. 

Indeed, for all her jibes at the Brexiteers, Davidson has a serious message. Since the EU referendum, she is “beginning to see embryos of where Scotland has gone post-referendum”. And, she warned: “I do not think we want that division.”

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.