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26 October 2000 Edition

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New in print: Food for thought and debate

Left Republican Review

Sept/Oct 2000

Ed: Eoin O'Broin

Molotov Press

Danny Morrison once said that every republican should read the Tunnels of Cu Chi, a book about the almost impossible conditions of war forced on the NLF in Vietnam and how they turned them to their advantage. Well, even if it isn't Danny saying it this time, this is a magazine that every republican should read and every cumann should buy.

This is the second issue of LRR. It is an indication of the strength of republicanism that people are talking and thinking, and not waiting, mesmerised like atrophied rabbits, on each latest squirming of the unionists.

In an age of increasingly bland and uncritical media coverage, here is this magazine which reflects ``the energy and excitement which exists now, amongst those who having fought the empire to a standstill, who remain unbowed and unbroken, and are witness to our own development'', as Jackie McMullen says in his opening article, titled I Say What I Like.

Gerry Kelly writes about how far away the Blair/Mandelson Police Bill is from Patten. Then there's Belfast's new approach to anti-social behaviour, building community-led partnerships to tackle underlying causes. This is followed by an important interview with Harry Maguire on Community Restorative Justice (CRJ) - a method of resolution which offers a way to bring about change beyond the sterility of blaming young people and dubbing them `hoods'. There's also a very clear political analysis of the breach of the Belfast Agreement embodied by the continued incarceration of the Castlerea Five.

For those who don't happen to share the belief that economics is only for pedants, or commies, there is an article by Douglas Hamilton and Ronnie Munck on Irish republican economic thinking. It makes a start - looking for alternatives to blind allegiance to the dictats of the market and global competitiveness, the need to transcend public/private and planned/market dichotomies towards the social economy. The reader is left left looking for Part II: What life is left in the nation state? Where to with the Euro? What is the real meaning of globalisation for us?

Una Gillespie gives an excellent review of how the equality agenda is working amongst the community and interest groups that have seized upon the `equality duty' as a sword with which to battle for justice against those who have spent lifetimes defending and perpetuating inequality.

In the face of the ruthless slaughter of another invaded people, LRR gives us relief after so much garbage in the media in recent days, which groans on about how the Palestinians must be made to stop throwing stones and make America's `Peace Process' work, `because it's the only show in town'. The LRR brings us Noam Chomsky on the background to present developments and an account of the Bantustan-style `arrangements' of this so called `settlement'.

And Eoin O'Broin himself then gives a review of the recent intensification of the ETA campaign within the political context of Spanish and French governments grasping at fantasy `solutions' based on intransigence and repression.

The magazine ends with an invaluable annotated bibliography. In the first issue of LRR it was on the PLO. In this issue it is on South Africa, with seven short reviews of books on the development of the South African liberation struggle and the hard transition away from racism, apartheid and gender inequality: so much for us to learn for our struggle from studying theirs.

The magazine issues an open invitation to read, learn, discuss and think about important issues and play a part in this dynamic for change. It flags from the outset that you are free to disagree but at least you can know and discuss. Left Republican Review reflects the confidence and excitement of those, who, as Jackie McMullen says, ``forged in the crucible of struggle'' are witness to our own development. It provides insight into the energy and thought of republicanism, the ``most powerful dynamic for change in this country''.

Send off today to order your copy.


Mandelson's executive birthright

Mandelson and the Making of New Labour

By Donald MacIntyre

Published by Harper Collins

Price Stg£6.99

In surveying his career over the past 20 or so years, it would be perfectly reasonable to suppose that, had he been brought up in different circumstances, Peter Mandelson would have had little ideological problem in joining the Conservative Party. Left to his own devices, he could easily have slotted into the pre-Thatcher, one-nation conservatism espoused by Edward Heath. However, by accident of birth, he arrived into a family with an impeccable Labour Party pedigree and so did not really have much choice with regard to the direction in which he should channel his formidable political ambitions. As MacIntyre puts it: ``Blair chose the Labour Party, Mandelson was born into it, ordained by both birth and environment to be Labour.''

Neil Kinnock said that a headline which referred to Mandelson as ``Labour's evil genius'' was ``half right''. Kinnock also said that Mandelson ``is not as good as he thinks he is or as bad as everyone else does''. In that, Kinnock was himself also half right.
Mandelson's grandfather was, as he never tires of reminding people, the prominent Labour politician, Herbert Morrison. Morrison was, incidentally, the minister responsible at the time of Tom Williams' execution and, not surprisingly, was also profoundly Unionist in outlook. Indeed, so enamoured of him was the Orange Order that they invited him to lead a parade, an invitation he was instructed to decline but which, according to MacIntyre, thrilled him. According to one contemporary commentator, Morrison was ``a cocky individual [who] was wined and dined by the local Unionists who found his right-wing, ultra-Brit attitude to their liking''. He was also an extraordinarily ambitious and cold man; in his biography Morrison never once mentions his wife, Margaret, although they were married for 34 years.

For all the Labour credentials, however, Mandelson's upbringing in a quiet, leafy part of north London was characterised by safe, dull, suburban, middle-class comfort; it was the sort of world where one could proclaim one's socialism whilst keeping the actual working class at arm's length. His path through grammar school, university and into the inner circle of the Labour Party via a short stint working in television was smooth and untroubled.

Once inside, given that he couldn't achieve his ambitions through the party as it was, he set about recreating Labour in his own image. And in a perverse way, one has to admire his determination and energy in doing so. He greatest skill, however, was his ability to identify and ingratiate himself with those in power or with the greatest degree of influence.

The writer David Aaronovitch, who knew Mandelson when he was a member of the Young European Left, commented that he was ``a really very strange figure, in his neat v-neck jumpers. With swept over hair and his beard and moustache, and this particular look, this vulpine grin that used to come across his face whenever there was anything kind of remotely amusing utterly unromantic figure, a powerbroker who understands almost viscerally, in an almost feminine way ... what people need out of a situation''.

This perception was to be borne out in the way Mandelson attached himself to Neil Kinnock, who had begun the process of turning Labour around after the 1983 electoral disaster. But most significantly, it was shown in the way he conducted himself in the days after John Smith's death as Gordon Brown and Tony Blair began to circle each other in the contest for the Labour Party leadership.

Mandelson, true to form, led both to believe that he was supporting their respective campaigns. MacIntyre, kindly, puts this down to Mandelson's touching loyalty to both and to his being torn between them. However, a less kindly view would be that Mandelson simply bided his time to see which emerged the most likely to win in order to ensure that he backed the winning candidate. Once the media had climbed aboard the Blair bandwagon, he hastily clambered on, abandoning Brown and, as he said himself, making ``an enemy for life'' of the future Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The only bump on Mandelson's smooth ride to power was, of course, the now famous loan from Geoffrey Robinson, something which in recent days has returned to haunt him. He was, of course, forced to resign over the matter, but it was always apparent that a route back into the fast lane would be found. And sure enough, David Trimble, recognising an instinctive unionist when he saw one, helped him out. Perhaps the single most telling line in the entire book is the heading of the chapter which deals with his entry into Irish politics (in which, apart from his role in the dropping of Labour's policy of Irish unity, he had shown very little interest). The chapter is entitled ``Rebuild your political life''.

Although MacIntyre is unduly sympathetic to Mandelson throughout the book, there are some amusing little vignettes included, like David Aaronovitch's comment, which probably shows Mandelson in a truer light than most of the rest. For example, MacIntyre recounts one meeting between Mandelson, Gerry Adams and Brian Cowen. Taking umbrage at being ``harangued'' by Adams, Mandelson apparently told him ``You don't have to berate me just because you're with other people. You don't do it when we're on our own''. Adams' response is not recorded, but perhaps even more amusingly, MacIntyre refers to this display of petulance as a ``high-risk tactic''.

Another was Neil Kinnock's response to a headline which referred to Mandelson as ``Labour's evil genius''. It was, he said, ``half right''. Kinnock also said that Mandelson ``is not as good as he thinks he is or as bad as everyone else does''. In that, Kinnock was himself also half right.

Of all Mandelson's unappealing personal characteristics, there is one which shines through consistently. For him - from his slightly odd obsession with his clothes to the infamous media spin-doctoring - appearance is all. In this he, and the way he has conducted the negotiations around the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, is the very embodiment of the reason why the British state still clings on to the north east corner of Ireland. Before leaving, it wants, no, has to be seen as having `solved' the Irish people's problems for them like some fairy godmother (and whether they like it or not, the British state does not, in its heart of hearts, recognise the Unionist community as British) as a way of deflecting the fact that it was and is the sole cause of these same problems. Nothing else matters so much, least of all unionists.

Finally, reading Mandelson's story is a little like reading of one of Henry James' heroines. The world they inhabit is full of precious, mannered, deceitful, ruthless ambition, which expresses itself in the assumption (much like Michael Heseltine and Alan Clark) that one can, from an early age, plan a faultless path to social and political power. He was born to rule; we, on the other hand, were born to be ruled. No wonder the UUP were so desperate to get him.


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