I’m surprised no one has made the link, which may or may not exist in reality. First, allegations are made last week that Shadow Chancellor George Osborne may have tried to arrange a donation to the Conservative Party from Russian aluminium magnate Oleg Deripasky while a guest on the latter’s yacht moored off Corfu. This would have broken the rules, as Deripasky is a foreign national. Vigorous denials from Osborne, followed by an apology yesterday to the effect that he had made a mistake in giving the appearance that he had solicited a donation; whilst admitting that he had in fact discussed the possibility of a donation (without actually requesting or obtaining one) during his summer holiday in Corfu.
Then it emerges there’s a Mandelson connection: not only are Mandy and Oleg long-established chums (with allegations of conflicts of interest in Mandelson’s former role as EU Trade Commissioner), but Mandelson was also on holiday in Corfu at the same time, where he met up with both Deripasky (and may even have stayed on his yacht overnight) and Osborne. In fact, he’s reported to have had lunch with Osborne, during which he bad-mouthed Gordon Brown.
Isn’t it just a little bit of a coincidence that, no sooner than Mandelson is recalled by Brown to the UK Cabinet, a story emerges – based on facts that must have been known to Mandelson – that puts the credibility and potentially the career of the Tory spokesman on the economy at serious risk? And this just at the time when Brown is trying to resurrect his own career on the basis of his supposedly decisive and capable management of economic affairs.
Personally, I just can’t help thinking that it’s Brown who’s behind the leaking of this story to the press, carried out with the aim of destroying a political opponent. I’ve suspected Brown of doing this in the past with other adversaries, and maybe even with Mandelson himself in his two previous resignations from ministerial posts on account of alleged financial impropriety and abuse of his position.
Let’s picture the scenario. It comes to the attention of Brown (as it’s reported in the Sunday Times) that Mandelson was uttering insults about him during his lunch with Osborne in Corfu. So, on Mandy’s entering the cabinet, Brown makes it clear that his loyalty to Mandelson (e.g. defending him against any subsequent suggestions of impropriety that may come to the surface) comes at the price of Mandelson’s total loyalty to him. And, to prove his loyalty, what can Mandelson give him on Osborne? Admittedly, the claims that Osborne did in fact request a donation from Deripasky came from Osborne’s former Oxford pal, Nat Rothschild. But, it emerges, Rothschild is also a friend of Mandelson’s . . . (see Rothschild’s letter to The Times about the affair). Then, in fact (coincidentally?), a story casting doubt on Mandelson’s integrity in his relationship with Deripasky does come to light; and Brown pulls a few strings to get his friends in the European Commission to deny any abuse of position on Mandelson’s part in securing a trade deal that worked to Deripasky’s advantage – thereby enabling Brown to demonstrate his loyalty to Mandelson.
I don’t have any facts to base this on; but the timing of it all just seems too fortuitous to be entirely coincidental. Brown is indeed back to his best: posturing as the firm hand on the tiller of the economy. And what better way to get the public to accept that you’re the only man who can steer the nation’s ship – or should that be yacht? – through the turbulent financial seas than to destroy the reputation of the Tories’ economics spokesman? The firm hand is indeed still a clunking fist.