Paul Foot

Passports and Politics
A beautiful symmetry

(February 2001)

From News Review, Socialist Review, No.249, February 2001, p.5.
Copyright © 2001 Socialist Review.
Downloaded with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

At some time during his stay in Northern Ireland a strange thing happened to Peter Mandelson. He lost what was left of his conscience.

When he resigned two years ago after his vast loan from former Paymaster General Geoffrey Robinson was revealed, he was subdued, almost contrite. He applied what became known as the Hartlepool test – what would the ordinary Labour voter in poor old Hartlepool make of their MP borrowing £400,000 from a rich pal so that he could buy himself a decent house? The answer was pretty obvious. Mandelson accepted it, and left the stage.

Apply the same test to the recent hullabaloo about the Hinduja brothers, and it goes something like this. What would a manual worker in Hartlepool make of his MP intervening on behalf of a billionaire who had been a generous supporter of Margaret Thatcher and who was being investigated by the Indian authorities for his part in a notorious arms scandal? The answer, if anything, would be even more unprintable than the answer over the Robinson loan scandal.

But Peter Mandelson has been so long in office that he has lost sight of his own simple test. So, it seems, have the entire media. So the questions which are being asked – by the newspapers, television, and mainly by the Tories, who are as deep in the Hinduja mire as anyone else – are about which ministers rang which colleagues, exactly what they said and whether their behaviour contradicted some legalistic code drawn up by MPs with the purpose of shielding them from public criticism. On this level it seems to be important whether it was Mandelson himself or his private secretary who rang the Home Office to ask about the Hindujas’ passport. This is an entirely trivial matter. No one suggests that the private secretary would have made such an inquiry without her boss’s instruction.

The point is that at a time when the Hindujas were offering vast sums to bolster the ghastly Dome, for which Mandelson was the responsible minister, Mandelson, or someone on his behalf, tried to secure for the billionaire the British citizenship which is craved by millions of desperately poor people all over the world. That is not a question of detail – who rang whom and when. That is a simple question of principle – of attempting to secure for a very rich donor a deeply-prized privilege.

The Tories, of course, are having a field day at Labour’s expense. Their jubilation will last as long as it takes to find out and publish what is already widely suspected – that the Hindujas were generous contributors to Tory Party coffers, were profound admirers of Margaret Thatcher, and were supported in all sorts of ways by senior Tory politicians and functionaries. The charge against Mandelson is the same sort of charge as that traditionally levelled against the Tories – of preferential treatment for the rich, and of seeking for the rich privileges and passports which are denied to impoverished masses of the same colour and culture.

The beautiful symmetry of the whole affair can best be appreciated by recalling that the original guru of New Labour, the man who dedicated himself to the re-writing of Clause Four of Labour’s constitution, and who devoted his entire life as a minister to sucking up to the rich and expecting them constantly to come to the rescue of the Labour government, is, you’ve got it in one, Peter Mandelson. And look where it all got him.


Last updated on 27.11.2004