A confusion of personal disappointment and political ambition

My first reaction to Bryan Gould's review of Paul Routledge's biography of Peter Mandelson (Books, 29 January) was one of incredulity. At the beginning of the year that will see devolution extended to Scotland and Wales and an end to the right of hereditary peers to vote in the Lords, can Bryan seriously believe that "the prospects of acting on an anti-establishment view as to how British society might be reformed have been fatally undermined"?

Contrary to Bryan's perception, "the real business of government" has well and truly begun and new Labour is delivering a series of radical constitutional reforms which previous Labour governments, including those that he supported, failed to achieve.

Equally astonishing is his claim that Labour's renewal was "simply not a major factor" in the 1997 election victory. It is difficult to believe that someone as intelligent as Bryan can really have failed to understand the reasons why the Tories held power for so long. Probably not. Indeed his reference to the "electorate's casual decision in 1992" looks suspiciously like a desperate attempt to make the uncomfortable fact of Labour's 1992 election defeat fit his theory that Labour had already modernised enough to secure election.

However, incredulity rapidly gave way to anger at Bryan's wholly unjustified and mean-spirited attack on his former colleagues who now sit in the cabinet. It is pretty rich for someone who left British politics and Britain after failing to win the leadership of the Labour Party in 1992 to accuse those who remained to fight and win the 1997 election of "treacheries" made "for the sake of personal ambition" or "deliberate abandonment of what had brought most of them into politics on the first place".

My abiding reaction to his article, however, is one of sorrow. Bryan was an important voice for modernisation in the Labour Party in the eighties and early nineties even if his judgement on some issues, such as our relationship with Europe, was wrong. It is a shame that he cannot acknowledge and take pleasure in the achievements of a radical and modernising Labour government, rather than carping in an ill-tempered way from the sidelines.

Nick Raynsford MP
House of Commons, London SW1

Bryan Gould was once a moderniser. Remember him being booed at the 1987 party conference for daring to suggest that employee share ownership might be popular? But then Bryan did what most of his supporters at the time would not have thought possible. He came up with an alternative to the hated poll tax which, if it had ever been allowed to become policy, would have been even more unpopular than the poll tax itself. He fell from grace and - surprise, surprise - he blamed not his own flawed judgement but Peter Mandelson.

Colin Byrne
London W1

This article first appeared in the 05 February 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Think, think and think again