Archives for September 2009

Why I asked Lord Mandelson if he is the new "Sheriff of Nottingham"

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John Sweeney | 10:51 UK time, Monday, 21 September 2009

Tackling the politician known as the Prince of Darkness is not for the faint of heart

Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, was running the country while the prime minister was on holiday when I caught up with him for our story into Britain's banks one year on from a massive £86bn taxpayer-financed bail out.

Oozing power from every pore, he was in Nottingham to launch yet another government scheme to help hard-up firms.

The government has given about half a billion pounds to firms, which sounds a lot until you compare it to the £86bn they have given the banks. The particular scheme he was launching in the land of Robin Hood is worth £75m.

So my question to the First Secretary pretty much wrote itself: "It's only £75m quid. And the government is giving billions to the banks. Some people might say you're robbing from the poor taxpayer and giving to the rich bankers. Lord Mandelson, are you the new Sheriff of Nottingham?'

Off he went, each phrase expertly articulated.

To my mind he wasn't answering the question, so I had another go - 75 million (for small businesses) plays billions (for the banks)? A beautifully coiffed eyebrow lofted skywards. The Prince's features framed a question mark: "If I can just ask, where are you from?" came the question.

From BBC Panorama, I replied.

Up shot the other eyebrow: "BBC Panorama, I could have guessed." Long sigh. "I don't think that the cynicism that you seem to be bringing to this subject is worthy of the task in hand and it's a big task and it's a big challenge."

I interrupted him to ask why my question was cynical.

Lord Mandelson popped me on the naughty step. He announced that he would take my questions last.

While the camera was looking the other way, his chief press officer, a soft-spoken Irishman called Peter Power, told me that I could have one more go, but that I couldn't interrupt with any more cynicism.

I did a bit of philosophy in between my degree in drinking at LSE. Diogenes The Cynic is my favourite philosopher. He once told the ruler of the Known World, Alexander The Great, to "get out of my light." Two and a bit thousand years on, nothing very much has changed.

When it was finally my turn, I asked Lord M about bankers' bonuses. He said, lengthily, that the bankers had taken excessive bonuses in the past. Aha! I thought and pounced: "But you're the Business Secretary, why can't you stop the banks having bonuses?"

He placed his hand on my back and said, softly: "Thanks."

I did not give up: "But you are the Business Secretary. Why can't you stop the banks having the bonuses?"

There was no reply.

I tried one last time. "No last word on bankers' bonuses?"

Silent, enigmatic, he disappeared into his black space cruiser and was gone.

You can watch some of our brief encounter here.

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