Tuesday 21 October 2008

Accountable Mandelson

Tory MP Peter Luff must’ve been licking his lips when he realised who he would have the chance to question in his select committee.

Luff is the self-satisfied Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Chair or, as one of his committee members astutely pointed out, the Berrc.

Only last week the MP, who describes his Berr Committee chairmanship as “centre-stage” on his website, was grilling EMDA chair Bryan Jackson – but today he could look important with the eyes of all Westminster looking on.

The occasion was the questioning of new Business Secretary Lord Mandelson (aka The Prince of Darkness) after his triumphant return to Westminster.

“It’s been a long time,” noted one committee member.

“It has been a long time,” replied the Lord, “but it makes it all the sweeter.”

“Let’s see if we can stir the sugar up a little then,” said the member.

Mandelson’s charm was referred to by the committee over and again. And charm them he did – speaking eloquently and informatively.

Tory Julie Kirkbride was positively gooey-eyed and cooing as she tried to get the Lord to criticise Barak Obama for trade-protectionism – Mandelson didn’t need to brush her aside, she obligingly lay on the ground and accepted his answers.

But Berrc was not going to miss his chance and was constantly cutting his own members and Mandelson off – saying that the meeting had to run to his plan of what would be talked about.

“You are one of the most powerful men in Parliament running a department that is a shadow of its former self,” he said.

Luff first tried to nail Mandelson on why the corruption part of his department answered not to him but to Justice Secretary Jack Straw.

“To be honest I don’t think it is the most important item on my agenda,” replied Mandelson, who spent most of his time trying to bring the conversation round to the economic crisis.

Luff tried again, attempting to nail Mandy on accountability – the problem being that as a Lord he would not answer to the Commons. A devilishly clever response came back.

He said: “If I can satisfy you with my accountability I can satisfy myself.”

Adding: “I know that my principal masters will be this committee and I hope that you help me, enable me, to be more accountable.”

Not all members of the committee bought the line and some continued to demand Mandelson report to the Commons.

But he showed his prowess in dealing with a thorny situation – particularly on a day when whispers about Russian yachts abound.

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