OPINION: With Brown, spin will always come second

I never intended to be on holiday at the time Gordon Brown finally became Prime Minister and as the Campbell diaries [The Blair Years: Extracts from the Alastair Campbell Diaries] were published, but now I am glad I was.

Whelan: ‘Campbell’s book is almost completely devoid of policy discussion’
Whelan: ‘Campbell’s book is almost completely devoid of policy discussion’

I missed seeing myself stitched up by the BBC’s Newsnight and Panorama from some pre-recorded interviews – something I always told the Prime Minister I would never do. I also missed the dubious pleasure of being able to turn down an invite to appear alongside Campbell on the Today programme. But at least I was able to give Campbell’s book a more considered read.

The most striking thing is that it is almost completely devoid of any serious policy discussion. This is strange, because I spent my time with Brown doing little other than discuss policy. The spinning was always secondary.

There was no subject that took as much time as Europe and the Euro. One of the best bits in the book was the Euro briefing early in New Labour’s first term, allegedly done by me in the Red Lion pub but which, as Campbell accurately recalls, involved him too.

Some months previously, following endless discussion and argument in Brown’s team, he decided we should not enter the Euro in that Parliament. All the Chancellor had to do then was convince the Prime Minister.

Now, I was not privy to that discussion and neither was anyone else. Subsequently, Brown instructed me to arrange an interview with The Times, where he would indicate the decision not to enter would be taken soon (Campbell claims there was no interview, but there was). Brown also instructed me to work with Campbell on the briefings, which we did, both saying the interview meant there would be no Euro decision until after the next election.

When the story appeared as The Times splash, Tony Blair went bonkers. Campbell says in his diaries he still can’t work out what went wrong. Well, I can tell him. The Prime Minister and his press secretary only ever discussed presentation and spin, so he didn’t know how pro-Euro Blair was. I received plenty of stick for my Euro briefings, but I did them in the full knowledge that Brown didn’t want to join the Euro.

When Brown said that the days of spin are over, he meant that the Campbell-Blair days of spin are over. We will still have briefings and media management, but with Brown you will get more or less what you see. Policy comes first, spin and presentation second.
charlie.whelan@haymarket.com

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