The British relationship with the European Union is of fundamental importance for the future.
Lord Mandelson arrives at our appointment on his bicycle in London during September 2013 , as usual very elegant, in his weekend clothes. He orders a very hot chocolate and a Belgian apple pie and says:-
I don’t like left populism. It is not an alternative to New Labour. I would prefer to build up a New Labour with more strategic interventions. But now the party has a new leadership. I am more out of politics because we must make room for the new generations. I am still very interested in Europe and the British relationship with the European Union. It is of fundamental importance for the future of Britain. To get out will be bad.
Your party voted against the military intervention in Syria. Did you agree?
It was very balanced. The use of chemical weapons against innocent people is wrong. But in this case it was best to avoid it. The veto in Britain against is through the long shadow that Iraq continues to cast over British opinion. I am not a pacifist, military intervention sometimes is necessary, but one has to be very cautious about how it is justified. I am afraid that the neoCon perspective of using military intervention has brought an opposite direction.
How is Britain going today?
Well. We were very exposed to the banking crisis. The financial sector is smaller today, but still contributing a great deal to our economy. But our economy is unbalanced. When in 2008 they made me come back from Brussels, they created a business department that I developed because we were too dependent on our financial sector and we needed to rebalance, also geographically. We relied too much on London and the South East. We needed to use better the skills and the assets that we have in the Country.The government today should do more to rebalance the economy and to support other sectors. We did it when I was Financial Secretary. I see a more laissez faire approach with the Conservatives and Labour sees more the State as the centre of the Economy. I support a more pragmatic interventionist approach but I am not against financial markets. They are not perfect and they do need regulatory constraints, but not to the point of suffocating them. We need a strong banking system to provide credit. The government could do more to extend credit to industry.
Do you think that Britain has changed her attitude vis a vis the United States?
I think that in a hidden way we are as close as ever but one of the consequences of the Iraq war is that there is not such an immediate assumption that we would intervene military with the US. The only time in the past that this has happened was during the Vietnam war when the Labour government declined do deploy forces alongside the US and its allies in Indochina. Since then, during the Thatcher, Major and Blair governments, there has been a more default position. We would follow where the US leads – and this was intensified by Tony Blair after 9/11 for reasons that anyone can understand. In my opinion David Cameron has largely continued to operate this policy, with less publicly expressed enthusiasm. I think that Ed Miliband will take the same approach.
It means that Britain will be closer to Europe?
It should mean it. But as we know the Conservatives don’t want to go in that direction and in a real sense they will lead us to great isolation, neither being American nor being European, trying to find somewhere to put down the anchor in the Mid Atlantic. In the case of Labour the approach will be more rational. Labour sees more clearly that British future is in Europe. This is also the view of the Liberal Democrats, who on this subject are presently uncomfortable in the coalition with the Conservatives.
Is Labour going to win the next election?
“There is no certainty on who will win the next election. Labour may be the biggest party, but without an overall majority in the Commons they will be looking for coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Mrs Merkel is the only incumbent political leader in Europe who has be able to win decisive re-election. I personally continue to take a New Labour view that my own party needs to fight on the center ground.”
Do you still see Tony Blair and Gordon Brown?
Nobody seems to see Gordon Brown. He does not come to parliament often and never speaks on any issue in this country. Tony Blair has become more visible lately, urging military intervention in Syria. He also, when necessary, defends his policies in relation to Iraq and the Middle East. But he spends most of his time abroad with a very busy business life and none of his old friends and colleagues sees much of him. I regret this because the original New Labour people and idea in the party has been allowed to dissolve.
Why don’t you become the leader of the New Labour?
I became the last man standing, but I have no formal role in the party. Most of my writings and speeches are more about Europe, more integration to secure the Eurozone, to assert our interests alongside those of the US and China.
What about the Pound?
No prospect of Britain adopting the Euro anytime soon. In my view we cannot be economically strong in Europe without integration. Integration and competitiveness require a political argument being made to persuade the public across all the member States of the EU, and at the moment we seem to have too few politicians able or willing to make the argument. But it does not seem so easy in Brussels or in the other European capitals to find a common fiscal solution and the banking architecture of the Eurozone.
What about Iran?
We should be willing to engage, to develop a dialogue. Potentially the new connection between US and Iran is the most important thing internationally, but we have to maintain some skepticism of Iranian intentions and maintain tough sanctions until Iran makes a real shift.
What about America?
The stand between the White House and the Congress spells huge danger for the global economy and the rest of the world is justified on showing alarm and impatience on what is happening in Washington.
What about Obama?
He has rescued the American reputation internationally; he introduced much needed social reforms. On balance he has been a good President but obviously not skillful enough to prevail against the Tea Party influence of the Republicans.
And what about Russia?
I feel very frustrated about Russia because they have a leader who is strong enough and intelligent enough to make Russia a real player in international affairs and to transform the Russian economy in the ways he needs, but for his own reasons he is choosing not to use his leadership in these ways as actively as he could.
Lord Mandelson decides that our interview is long enough and he has to go home for dinner. But before leaving he asks me about Italy, a country where he feels well and where he has some good friends. Among them Enrico Letta, the new Italian prime minister. He likes Letta and somehow he thinks that Berlusconi is on his way out. But Lord Mandelson has to go. Tomorrow he is going to Abu Dhabi to give a lecture. I ask him if he goes to work on his bicycle. He says that sometimes he does, even with a bespoke suit.
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