This is what happens when you forget that private means private, George

by Stephen Tall on October 21, 2008

When the story of Peter Mandelson and George Osborne’s meeting was leaked to the press by the Tory shadow chancellor three weeks ago, I argued on Lib Dem Voice that Mr Osborne had behaved pretty shabbily:

There’s a principle at stake here, even if it’s one increasingly regarded as old-fashioned: that private conversations held in good faith should be respected.

At the time, Iain Dale (every Lib Dem’s favourite Tory blogger) accused me of being “pious”. But, in fact, there’s more to not leaking private conversations than good manners: it’s also good sense. Who knows exactly why Mr Rothshild decided to go on the counter-attack against the Tory shadow chancellor – but there’s more than a hint of the personal offence he took at Mr Osborne’s very public outing of his social relations with Lord Mandelson in the concluding lines of his letter to The Times:

it ill behoves all political parties to try and make capital at the expense of another in such circumstances. Perhaps in future it would be better if all involved accepted the age-old adage that private parties are just that.

And who knows exactly what happened when George Osborne, Peter Mandelson, Oleg Deripaska and Nathaniel Rothschild holidayed together in Corfu this summer: chances are this scandal-in-a-tiffin-cup will descend into an undignified he-said-she-said stand-off.

But the incident has further damaged George Osborne’s political stock; and it was already on the decline due to his distinctly unimpressive response to the financial turmoil of recent weeks. Even the usually über-loyal Spectator Coffee House blog couldn’t avoid mentioning how Mr Osborne had evaded media questioning about the discussions he had with Mr Deripaska:

The frustrated press pack kept asking whether Osborne has discussed a donation with the oligarch at all, but the Shadow Chancellow repeatedly batted that away, which will not play well in the media.

George Osborne should take note: Lord Mandelson has discovered to his political cost over the years that leaking against your opponents may win you the battle, but all too often ends up losing you the war.