Peter Mandelson: 'I'll make sure Hull gets its fair share through my royal role'
FOR decades, Peter Mandelson was loved and loathed as the "Prince of Darkness", the original political spin doctor. Now he is looking forward to utilising all those dark arts to Hull's advantage.
This week Hull City Council confirmed Lord Mandelson had accepted his appointment as High Steward of the city for a ten-year term of office.
And, he told the Mail, he cannot wait to start delivering for the city.
"I hope to bring my skills and experience, my contact and networks, to make sure Hull gets its fair share of investment, opportunities and available resources," he says.
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"Both here in Britain, and in Europe and beyond, if I can add value to what others are already doing, then I'll feel I've fulfilled people's expectations."
He admits the appointment came as a surprise.
"It's not every day that such an ancient ceremonial position is reactivated by Her Majesty the Queen," he says, referring to a role first created in 1583.
Usefully, Mandelson was already a peer and a privy councillor, both requirements for the post. Even in the 16th century, the office-holder was expected to act as a highly placed lobbyist for the interests of Hull in return for the honour of the title.
Lord Mandelson's appointment has not, however, been without controversy. Alth- ough he represented a northern constituency (Hartlepool) in Parliament between 1992 and 2004, he has no formal links with Hull and admits to only having been there three times.
He argues this is not a problem. "I thought the whole point of the position is to get someone with a national, European and international profile to work as a sort of ambassador for the city," says Lord Mandelson. "That's what I gathered and that's what I hope to do."
But then Lord Mandelson has never been far from controversy. In the mid to late 1980s, he was Labour's director of campaigns and communications, a role he used to modernise the party in order to regain power.
That approach, of course, upset Labour's more traditional figures and supporters, who regarded the whole "New Labour" project with suspicion. But Lord Mandelson's strategy was vindicated when Tony Blair won a massive majority at the 1997 general election.
In Cabinet, Lord Mandelson served alongside the veteran Hull MP John Prescott, who is said to be less than thrilled about his colleague's appointment as High Steward.
The former Deputy Prime Minister wrote a letter to the city council to make his feelings clear.
"I've not seen the letter," says Lord Mandelson, "I've no knowledge of it at all, but to claim John and I are adversaries is wrong. I have no animosity whatsoever towards John Prescott. In fact, the first time I visited Hull was to stay with John at his home."
Since that visit, Lord Mandelson returned to speak on behalf of Alan Johnson in his Hull West and Hessle constituency, and also to open the World Trade Centre during his tenure as the European Union's Trade Commissioner.
"I don't know it Hull as well now as I will do through doing this role," he says.
As Business Secretary in the last Labour Government, Lord Mandelson was also instrumental in forging links between the German energy giant Siemens and the city.
"I initiated the basis for the memo of agreement between Siemens and Green Port Hull," he says. "I'd put out the initial feelers with Siemens about this when I was Secretary of State and, if I remember rightly, I also put some money the port's way to modernise facilities as an additional draw for Siemens.
"So I've already done a small amount but now I hope to do more."
Asked if his new role could help finally clinch Siemens' investment in the city, Lord Mandelson says: "I hope so. Siemens is a company I've got to know even better since I was originally involved.
"Councillor Brady and Alan Johnson also have a very good relationship with them."
But Lord Mandelson echoes Lord Heseltine in cautioning against "putting all our eggs in the Siemens basket".
"There are other investors we need to bring to this city too," he says, "and I'll work with Diana Johnson, Alan and Karl Turner to make sure that happens."
Ceremonial posts such as High Steward are often accepted by politicians and then forgotten about but Lord Mandelson clearly intends to take his position seriously.
"It's not a full-time job; it's not a paid job," he says, "but nevertheless it's a job I hope to carry out for quite a while and one I think I can do well."