Mandy’s back, and the trouble begins…

Trouble for the government’s press officers, that is. Within two weeks of being named as the new (deep breath) Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Lord Mandelson is making waves. I pointed out in a previous post that the unions don’t like him; for proof, we haven’t had long to wait.

On Monday the Financial Times ran a story saying that in an interview for them, Mandelson had backed part-privatisation of Royal Mail. Unions and some MPs predictably upset.

On the same day, Downing Street said Mandelson was reviewing the government’s promise to extend the right to flexible working to parents of children up to age 16 (up from six at present).

Then today at his inaugural grilling by the BERR select committee, the noble Lord said he hadn’t come to a decision on either point. What’s more, he hadn’t given an interview to the FT “in the last 72 hours”. Unions are already worried about the threat to Royal Mail’s future posed, they think, by the Hooper review (see my story here.)

Puzzled? You’re not alone. Committee chairman Peter Luff wrapped up by telling Mandelson that he was “more confused than I began” over Royal Mail’s future.

I sat in on that committee hearing. It was very cordial, but you couldn’t get over the feeling that MPs of all parties wanted to know what Mandelson thought about a myriad of subjects – and on the above two points, he gave nothing away. He even praised the TUC’s head of equality and employment rights, Sarah Veale, for her contribution to the flexible working debate on this morning’s Today programme (her contribution was to say he was wrong).

To get to the point. What links both issues is they were both supposedly sealed at Labour’s National Policy Forum in Warwick(yes, it always comes back to that with me. Sorry) which agreed that Royal Mail would be kept public and that fllexible working would be extended. And Warwick II was the first agreement of its kind, because there was no limit on the amount of suggested policy amendments constituency parties and unions could submit. It was a test drive for a new process.

Breaking both those policy commitments a this stage will not only annoy a few MPs and provoke grumbling from unions; it might lead them to decide that the policy making process they signed up to at Warwick doesn’t work. I can tell you that questions about the issue of Royal Mail are currently being asked at the highest fraternal level. Such response as there has been has been guarded, but that’s not the last of it.

Make no mistake, Mandelson is back, and as beguiling as ever, even for trade union anoraks like me…

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