HE IS a man with
generous friends. Peter Mandelson, the former secretary
of state for Northern Ireland, has found a new backer
for his political ambitions in the shape of Sir Evelyn
de Rothschild, the multi-millionaire banker.
De Rothschild may be 21 years Mandelson’s senior but
the two have become firm friends, lunching and sharing
an interest in Albanian affairs. When the banker married
his third wife two years ago, Mandelson was a guest.
So it is perhaps no surprise that de Rothschild has
emerged as the mystery funder of Policy Network, a
“super think tank” that boasts some of No 10’s senior
policy advisers on its board and is chaired by none
other than Mandelson.
The sum donated to date is said to be £250,000. The
name of the donor is missing from the think tank’s
accounts, but its directors have been privately
concerned that they will look secretive if they continue
to hide his identity. One tipped off The Sunday Times
last week: “It hasn’t been publicised, but de
Rothschild’s involvement is well known to the board.”
Last night critics said the donation is yet another
example of a businessman with vast commercial interests
in government policies giving “cash for access” via a
Labour think tank. De Rothschild and Policy Network have
declined to comment on the matter.
De Rothschild, 71, heads the British arm of the
Rothschild banking dynasty and chairs N M Rothschild
& Sons, its merchant bank. His personal fortune is
estimated in The Sunday Times Rich List as £500m.
Mandelson’s attraction to rich men has already led to
him resigning from the government twice. The revelation
that Geoffrey Robinson, the multimillionaire businessman
and Labour MP, had loaned him £330,000 to buy a home
prompted his first resignation from the Department of
Trade and Industry. Then his friendship with the
billionaire Hinduja brothers led to his downfall as
Northern Ireland secretary when he was accused of
helping them obtain British passports.
De Rothschild was not previously known to have
political leanings but the donation is attributed to
Mandelson’s influence and to the banker’s wife Lynn
Forester, a friend of Bill Clinton and part of New
York’s Democratic party elite.
The couple’s friendship with Mandelson blossomed when
he was flown to Albania, where de Rothschild and Lord
Sainsbury are trying to preserve the city of Butrint, a
world heritage site.
In June this year the de Rothschilds were among the
organisers of a “progressive” leaders’ conference run by
Policy Network at Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire, which
attracted Clinton and the prime minister. In the
evening, the gathering moved to Ascott House, de
Rothschild’s home in Buckinghamshire, for a seated
banquet for 100.
The board of Policy Network — set up by a group of
young Blairites in 2000 — reads like a Who’s Who of
Labour’s inner circle. It includes Andrew Adonis, head
of Downing Street’s policy unit, Roger Liddle, a senior
member of the No 10 policy unit, Lord Levy, Blair’s
chief fundraiser, and Adair Turner, the former CBI
director who is now part of Blair’s “blue sky” thinking
When Mandelson resigned as Northern Ireland
secretary, both Policy Network and No 10 steered the MP
for Hartlepool in its direction. A source close to the
think tank claimed it was all part of attempts by
Downing Street and friends to “feather bed” his second
fall from grace.
According to Policy Network directors, the de
Rothschilds gave the money to a charity, the Policy
Network Foundation, before Mandelson came on board.
A Downing Street spokesman denied that there was any
conflict of interest between Adonis’s and Liddle’s
presence on the board. He said: “These are unpaid
positions from which no financial gain is sought or