Say what you like about Peter Mandelson – some of you will doubtless take up the invitation – but he knows how to pack a few messages into a newspaper interview.
I particularly like the way, in his Mirror interview today, that he paid tribute to the British people in their role in getting Britain through one of the toughest economic periods any of us can remember. Too often, these issues are presented as being for governments and big business alone.
It is true that the government made some very big decisions as the economic crisis struck, and many of the fairer elements in today’s media recognise the role of those decisions in getting us to the fragile recovery we now appear to have.
But Peter set it out differently. I quote now from the Labour Party’s media monitoring department’s account of this part of the interview. ‘We’ve come out of it better than most people hoped or predicted because a lot of people around the country tightened their belts. They made real sacrifices. People have given up hours or some of their salary to help employers through. There are employees and employers for whom the recession has been a real struggle but whose sacrifices have enabled many more businesses to come through the recession intact than was the case in the 1980s or the 1990s. The real heroes of the recession are the British people’.
But he is nothing if not Labour and so never far away from taking a shot at the Tories, whose bad calls on the recession get precious little media attention considering they are seen by many as a government-in-waiting. ‘Many people on the shop floor and the high street are still feeling the effects of the recession. We aren’t out of it completely. We have stuck by businesses through the recession so we can blunt the impact of unemployment. But the Tories called the recession wrong and now are calling the recovery wrong. They’re saying, ‘pull support away & start cutting into government spending & investment straight away’. If you swing the axe blindly you will find yourselves cutting the roots of growth rather than the branches of public spending. That is the great risk posed by the Tories. If the Tories get the chance to call this wrong later this year we will be at risk of slipping back into recession and unemployment starting to mount again. It’s not a question of whether you reduce the deficit, it’s when and how. Get that wrong and we will be taking a colossal risk with the economy … The recovery remains fragile. The urgent priority for businesses is for the government to maintain support for the economy and to lift and maintain demand.’.
Peter went through some pretty bruising election defeats in his time and clearly shares my view that the Tories really are just banking on ‘time for a change’ and don’t feel they have to do that much to show they deserve to get back. ‘I think those like David Cameron, who think all they need to do is sit back, say little and wait for power to be passed to them on a plate will be in for a shock. The time will come fairly soon for everyone to start looking behind the airbrushed posters of Cameron and ask what does this guy and this party mean for me and my family?’
He was also very good on the need for Labour to show themselves as a team of ministers, in contrast to a Tory frontbench, only a handful of whose members are generally known by the public.
Last word to the paper in which his views appeared, and an editorial saying that the announcement we are out of recession should cause us to pause and reflect how much worse it could have been if the Labour government had not stepped in, salvaging banks, savings, homes and jobs. ‘Either Britain moves forward with Labour values and policies or it slips back with a Conservative Party whose cuts would plunge Britain back into recession,’ it says. Hear hear.