Peter Mandelson: I'd love to work in a Keir Starmer government

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Peter Mandelson talks to Christopher Hope during a recording of Chopper's Politics podcast - Jamie Lorriman/Jamie Lorriman
Peter Mandelson talks to Christopher Hope during a recording of Chopper's Politics podcast - Jamie Lorriman/Jamie Lorriman

Peter Mandelson has said that he would be delighted to serve in a Keir Starmer government as he urged the Labour leader to do more to project his personality to win round voters.

Lord Mandelson, one of the architects of 'new' Labour, said that former prime minister Tony Blair was offering advice to Sir Keir and urged the Labour leader to be bolder about developing ideas on how to reshape the economy.

He said that Labour had to stop talking to itself and reach out to convince voters - particularly in Scotland - to give the party another chance.

The peer also urged Sir Keir to hold firm against calls for him to readmit former leader Jeremy Corbyn who had the whip suspended for saying that the scale of anti-Semitism under him in Labour had been overstated.

In an interview for today's Chopper's Politics podcast, which you can listen to using the audio player above, Lord Mandelson said he still hankered after a return to a job in a future Labour government - although he had not discussed the idea with Sir Keir.

He said: "I'd love to go back to the government. There's not a day that passes without my missing being in government.

"The likelihood of my going back to government, I think, is fairly small, but it doesn't stop you dreaming."

Former leader Tony Blair, who has won plaudits for his institute's ideas and interventions about how to tackle the Covid-19 crisis, was also in touch "from time to time" about ideas with Sir Keir's office.

'Slim down the shadow cabinet'

Lord Mandelson said Sir Keir might benefit if he cut down the number of frontbenchers who are advising him to a core team.

He suggested Sir Keir could "perhaps slim down the shadow cabinet and create a really good core team of people who can work with him. But that's a matter for him to decide".

He said: "I don't think the Labour Party needs individual detailed policies at this stage, but it certainly needs the vision and it certainly needs to set out the programme.

"And at the heart of that programme has got to be a new economy, a growth plan that's going to enable us to generate the prosperity that will enable us to pay for all the other things that we want in our country."

'Boris Johnson has a poor character'

Lord Mandelson urged Sir Keir to project his personality to appeal to voters saying: "He's the opposite of Boris Johnson. I mean, Boris Johnson has a strong personality, but a poor character.

"Keir Starmer is different. He's got a very good and very strong character, but he doesn't project his personality enough.

"It's challenging for a leader of a political party because the leader, more than anyone else, embodies what the party is about and its vision and what it wants to do for the country.

"He's the chief message carrier for the public from the party and he has to set out his stall and make an impact."

The peer warned: "You can have the best ideas in the world, but if you don't sell them properly, if you don't make an impact.

"Every day, you've got to get up [and think]: 'How am I going to make more people understand better what I and the party are about today?"

'The SNP are there for the taking'

Lord Mandelson was optimistic about Labour's prospects against the SNP, saying: "The SNP is there for the taking, but you need a really effective political force reassembled in Scotland."

He said that Labour could make the case for "modern unionism" and "a modern UK for the 21st century".

He added: "I don't believe that you're going to deal with the whole separation argument and the demand for independence just by parcelling over more powers to the separatists.

"They've got to be taken on and defeated politically in argument. And that's what I would like to see the Labour Party doing."

Lord Mandelson called for more devolution in England: "We need to decentralise the country. Let it breathe a bit more, let local people empower them, allow them to take more decisions.

"It means parcelling out power and resources across the regions and nations of the country, but within the United Kingdom and that we can do."

Mushy peas, or guacamole?

Lord Mandelson, who was MP for Hartlepool from 1992 to 2004, clarified a story about him that has gone down in political folklore: that he had once confused mushy peas with guacamole in a fish and chip shop.

He said: "It's not true. It was a great story, one that was punted by Neil Kinnock about me, because when I left as the party's communications and campaign director, he gave a little party for me and the lobby journalists.

"And he presented me with wonderful fried cod, great chips all wrapped up in a copy of The Daily Mirror, with a great tub of guacamole. And that's where it started."

In fact Lord Mandelson blamed the story on "an American intern working for some Labour MP in the Knowsley by-election in 1986 who went into the fish and chip shop and confused mushy peas with guacamole".

He added: "You know - it's all guacamole off my back - I don't mind it at all."

Listen to Christopher Hope's full interview with Lord Mandelson, along with a conversation with House of Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, on Chopper's Politics, The Telegraph's weekly political podcast, using the audio player above, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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