Mandelson denounces "quasi-state funeral" for Thatcher

"Mrs T is not Churchill," the former Labour minister says, declaring that he would have "recommended against" a ceremonial funeral.

Peter Mandelson, who once declared "we are all Thatcherites now", struck a discordant note at tonight's Policy Exchange event on the former prime minister's legacy when he denounced tomorrow's "quasi-state funeral" and said he "would have recommended against it." Appearing alongside Michael Gove and Charles Moore, he added: "Mrs T is not Churchill". Given the role of the last Labour government in drawing up the funeral arrangements some will reasonably ask whether Mandelson expressed his dissent at the time.

In a vivid turn of phrase, he also remarked that while her three election victories helped bring Labour "to its senses" in the 1980s, the party "over-inhaled" on Thatcherism. "Ministers and markets can mix more than she would allow," he said, a reminder of the more interventionist approach he adopted as Business Secretary after his 2008 return. He added that "it fell to Tony Blair to keep what was right and repair what was wrong", to which Gove countered that had it not been for Thatcher's defeat of Arthur Scargill and the NUM, Blair and Mandelson would never have been elected.

Peter Mandelson said he "would have recommended against" a ceremonial funeral for Margaret Thatcher. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Vince Cable will need something snappier than a graduate tax to escape tuition fees

Perhaps he's placing his hopes in the “Anti Brexit People’s Liberation Front.” 

“We took power, and we got crushed,” Tim Farron said in what would turn out to be his final Autumn conference as Liberal Democrat leader, before hastening on to talk about Brexit and the need for a strong opposition.

A year and a snap election later, Vince Cable, the Lib Dem warhorse-turned-leader and the former Coalition business secretary, had plenty of cracks about Brexit.

He called for a second referendum – or what he dubbed a “first referendum on the facts” – and joked that he was “half prepared for a spell in a cell with Supreme Court judges, Gina Miller, Ken Clarke, and the governors of the BBC” for suggesting it".

Lib Dems, he suggested, were the “political adults” in the room, while Labour sat on the fence. Unlike Farron, however, he did not rule out the idea of working with Jeremy Corbyn, and urged "grown ups" in other parties to put aside their differences. “Jeremy – join us in the Anti Brexit People’s Liberation Front,” he said. The Lib Dems had been right on Iraq, and would be proved right on Brexit, he added. 

But unlike Farron, Cable revisited his party’s time in power.

“In government, we did a lot of good and we stopped a lot of bad,” he told conference. “Don’t let the Tories tell you that they lifted millions of low-earners out of income tax. We did… But we have paid a very high political price.”

Cable paid the price himself, when he lost his Twickenham seat in 2015, and saw his former Coalition colleague Nick Clegg turfed out of student-heavy Sheffield Hallam. However much the Lib Dems might wish it away, the tuition fees debate is here to stay, aided by some canny Labour manoeuvring, and no amount of opposition to Brexit will hide it.

“There is an elephant in the room,” the newly re-established MP for Twickenham said in his speech. “Debt – specifically student debt.” He defended the policy (he chose to vote for it in 2010, rather than abstain) for making sure universities were properly funded, but added: “Just because the system operates like a tax, we cannot escape the fact it isn’t seen as one.” He is reviewing options for the future, including a graduate tax. But students are unlikely to be cheering for a graduate tax when Labour is pledging to scrap tuition fees altogether.

There lies Cable’s challenge. Farron may have stepped down a week after the election declaring himself “torn” between religion and party, but if he had stayed, he would have had to face the fact that voters were happier to nibble Labour’s Brexit fudge (with lashings of free tuition fees), than choose a party on pure Remain principles alone.

“We are not a single-issue party…we’re not Ukip in reverse,” Cable said. “I see our future as a party of government.” In which case, the onus is on him to come up with something more inspiring than a graduate tax.

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