New Statesman

July 4, 1997

Some Ideas for the Prince, Mr. Mandelson

by Emily Green

Ever wondered why the answers given by politicians have so little relationship to the questions? A former transport minister was once kind enough to spell it out. "One never answers a question," he said. "One simply says what one has to say."

Last week on Radio 4's Any Questions Peter Mandelson was saying what he had to say. Asked if Princess Diana should be allowed into the Commons to discuss land mines, he launched into an adoring spiel about Prince Charles, and what a splendid job he is doing with all his special projects in slums and such. What could this mean other than that the Minister without Portfolio is out to rehabilitate Prince Charles?

Mr Mandelson, you're good, but he's worse. Even Jonathan Dimbleby was speared by his own tripod while toadying to the prince. However, if you're intent on the job, you'll need pointers. One: never mention architecture. Prince Charles can't seem to tell the difference between a Mies van der Rohe tower and a prefab council estate. Never, ever allow anyone to film him pronouncing on good taste while he is sitting next to a lamp whose stand looks more like a miniaturised statue from Trafalgar Square than anything that should have alight-bulb and switch attached.

Never leave him alone. Turn your back and he'll be suggesting British armed forces should rent themselves out as mercenaries or popping up at Saudi arms shows posing with Sheiks next to British-made fighter bombers. Now, Mr Mandelson, listen very carefully. Here's how you do it. Keep him on food

If you're out to green British agriculture, he's your royal. He is patron of the Soil Association, a worthy bunch in Bristol behind the certification of organic food in Britain. The association had the wit to ban ruminant protein in its conventional livestock rations well before BSE broke out. It, and Prince Charles, keep wellbriefed. His office is probably better aware than yours that only last week a drum of the highly toxic chemical Lindane was found dumped in a stream in Kent. This week, as the mandatory sheep-dipping order comes into force affecting most of the forty million national flock, there will be open baths of toxic chemicals spilling over in every county in the country.

He is not just talk on farming. His operation at Highgrove is an organic ideal. Wherever possible, confine him to Highgrove, or at least the UK. France was an unfortunate venue for his paean to smelly cheeses. Poor Charles emerged a laughing stock, when, in fact, he is loyal champion of British farmhouse cheesemakers, and has gone to their farm open days not to press flesh or get media mileage, but to offer genuine support. Ah, don't push the gastronomy side, either. Word has it that his favourite food is an egg sandwich.

It is rich but tricky territory over at the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, of which he is also patron. This group does much to preserve traditional breeds of livestock best suited to the British climate, if inappropriate for intensive farming. Alas, he is not gaffe-free here either. Scarcely two months after the BSE crisis of 1996, the trust published a claim by him that there were only 350 "pure" Hereford cattle left in the UK. He meant ones more blue blooded than him. Even the Daily Telegraph felt moved to point out there were 99,999,560 Herefords listed worldwide, if not all of them "free from alien influence".

Mr Mandelson, good luck. You'll need it. Please send my 9 million pounds via the Paymaster General.


Copyright Statesman and Nation Publishing Company, Ltd Jul 4, 1997