Of course there should be a debate between the main party leaders. It would put them on their metal in front of the nation – where we pick up all kinds of signals (most of which have little to do with policy) and see how they deal with pressure under fire. One of the problems, however, is that the conditions that are put down before someone like the PM will take part will probably sterilise the process – perhaps even to the point of pointlessness – and the ‘dealing with pressure under’ fire is totally minimised. Secondly – the incumbent has the advantage of office and so never really wants to give the others the exposure – let alone give them a chance to outshine them. And – given Gordon Brown’s cowardice quota (as Chancellor he used to let his junior ministers take the difficult questions at Treasury Questions) it is hard to imagine he will grow the balls to get out there and fight.
But as for someone who loves getting out there and fighting the fight – I have a confession, I’m a bit of a fan of Peter Mandelson. I know – you’re not meant to say things like that and no – I don’t agree with his policies etc etc etc. But this guy is clever, clever, clever – and a real operator.
Although I knew that he ditched Brown for Blair in the leadership contest – and therefore was never to be forgiven – I hadn’t really fully appreciated his Machiavellian talents fully. I just hope that he is keeping extensive and honest notes – because if his autobiography tells the truth one day – it will be the most fascinating read ever.
I remember doing the Westminster Hour on a Sunday night the week that Gordon announced his was bringing Mandelson back from Europe, popping him into the Lords and making him Business Minister. I said that I had been completely taken aback by the move because it was brave, clever, shocking and I didn’t think Gordon had the balls to have the vision to take this brilliant strategic move. Retrospectively, I am now sure that it was Mandelson’s proposal – not Brown’s. And of course – you have to pay the piper – which is why Mandelson now sits on all the important Government committees and pulls the strings. Where will his rise and rise end? Will we see him come back to lead the Labour Party post Brown?