16 Jul 2010

Mandy's Secret Weapon

At the Mandy book launch last night there were some wonderfully tedious ‘no-shows’ and some equally intriguing ‘shows’, the Prince of Darkness was in ebullient form.

So was the boss of HarperCollins, Victoria Bardsley. For her this is a publishing sensation, for him this is a week of living dangerously – an exploit that he seems to fear and relish in equal measure – no Kinnock present, no Campbell, no Prescott and naturally, no Blair or Brown.

Brown’s closest advisor Sue Nye was on hand, so were Blair’s Angie Hunter and Sally Morgan. It was an event at the Festival Hall laced with venom, intrigue and humour in equal measure. My good friend Andrew Rawnsley had speed read the thing in a day and averred that it was less candid than The Times serialisation had pretended.

Conversation was largely supportive of the coalition and of Ed Miliband in the Labour leadership stakes.

But surprisingly, the most interesting conversation centred on the current menu of cuts.

No one I spoke to thought 25 per cent either achievable or sensible. But all agreed that to set a ‘culture’ of draconian cuts would create a dynamic in which perhaps 12 per cent to 15 per cent might be achieved – probably the amount that the economy needed or could bear.

Trident came up. I learned that General Sir Richard Dannatt – erstwhile Tory defence advisor, who had been due to go into the Lords, is opening a potential fissure on the deterrent.

He apparently only thinks the thing should go ahead on a ‘very narrow points decision’ and that in 5 to 10 years time the decision might very well be reversed – a point made in today’s FT. It is intriguing that there is as yet so little main stream parliamentary support for abandoning the Cold War relic.

The new and most immediate defence question centres on the contract to build two aircraft carriers – the work has already started on Clydeside. My sources tell me that General Sir David Richards, the new chief of the armed forces, is not excited by the project.

Still, I’d have been a boring old toad if I had left last night’s proceedings thinking about military hardware. I didn’t.

I left thinking that the Prince’s Chapter 2 about his childhood lived in the presence of great men was the most important in his tome.

Inside Peter Mandelson is a great man desperate to get out. The political man will not be playing on the scale of the Third Man again, but as to some other role – in a strange way – love him or hate him (and as I said yesterday, most people who know him have achieved both) I think we haven’t heard the last of him.

Does an arms manufacturer beckon? Now who’s building those missiles?

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