Mandy and Gaddafi lord it up at the manor

What are we to make of Lord Mandelson's recent trip to stay with the Rothschilds at Waddesdon Manor?

What are we to make of Lord Mandelson's recent trip to stay with the Rothschilds at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire? It was a shooting weekend, although neither the First Secretary of State, nor Cherie Blair, another guest, actually picked up a gun.

According to Charles Moore in The Spectator, the guns were "various young friends of Nat [Rothschild] with double-barrelled or European princely names". The keenest shot among them was Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, son of the Libyan dictator, and the man who escorted the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Al Megrahi, home to a hero's welcome in Libya in August.

Gaddafi has so taken to shooting, says Moore, that he has laid down 40,000 partridges near Tripoli. Half have been killed by raptors, but the others have been keeping him and his friends busy: one day a few weeks ago, when Flavio Briatore of Formula 1 fame was among the guns, the bag was about 300.

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But back to Mandelson: what was he doing rubbing shoulders with Gaddafi at a grand shoot? (The two had met, of course, at Lord Rothschild's villa in Corfu days before the release of Megrahi, so the Rothschilds are clearly fond of both of them.)

To Peter Oborne in the Daily Mail, the event was symbolic of "the decadence, corruption and moral collapse of modern British socialism". Far from being repelled by the opulence of Waddesdon, as you might expect of a former Young Communist and activist of the far left, Mandelson is captivated by it. "The drab lives of the hard-working men and women who placed their faith in Labour at three consecutive general elections hold no appeal to him."

But you can see the appeal of this great house for a chap like Mandelson, says Moore, who feels a "twinge of sympathy" for him: for one thing, it's very comfortable. (Before the Great War, guests could ask for coffee, tea or chocolate when they woke up, with milk, cream or lemon. If they chose cream, "they were offered the choice of Alderney, Jersey or Guernsey".) And the Rothschilds like people who are powerful or rich, among them Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska, whom they also entertained with Mandy in Corfu.

But should Mandy really be performing these daring feats of social mountaineering? He might argue, as Moore suggests in The Daily Telegraph, that he was "doing the state some service" by watching young Gaddafi "blast pheasants out of the sky". Libya is an unpleasant place but it's no longer making weapons of mass destruction, mainly thanks to British intelligence, so there's a case for being nice to Gaddafi and his clown of a father.

In considering Lord Mandelson, the big question, as Moore says, is this: has he driven forward the desperately needed task of modernising and moderating the Labour Party, thus making it electable? Or has he "pushed our public life into a culture of chicanery, political lies and the circumvention of parliamentary democracy?" The answer, as Moore says, is both.

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