OPINION: Charlie Whelan - Byers emerges as loser in media's spin circus

I doubt if my old mate Alastair Campbell will be losing much sleep over the latest bout of spin mania in all the media. The question he will be asking is, does anyone outside Westminster care about Martin 'Who?' Sixsmith? The answer is 'no'.

The reason why this is such a big story is because the media is obsessed with stories about itself, which is why dozens of hacks were sent up to the Scottish Highlands to hunt me down three years ago because they thought I had done in Peter Mandelson - as if.

Any story about spin doctors seems to fascinate the media much more than it does the general public, and acres of news space are devoted to it.

I have to switch off my phone when a new spin story breaks, as all the media outlets want my view on it. The media village atmosphere in Westminster means that newspapers vie with each other to write the longest and most boring pieces about who said what to who.

The surprise about the Jo Moore/Martin Sixsmith saga is that Sixsmith seems to be getting such an easy ride from the hacks. This is because they see Moore as 'political' and Sixsmith as some poor independent-minded civil servant. This is, of course, complete rubbish.

Sixsmith was recruited to head Harriet Harman's press operation because he was a Labour supporter. He is not the only civil servant in Whitehall who genuinely supports the New Labour cause. According to my spies in the lobby, Sixsmith has been 'spinning like a top' for the past few weeks and none more so than to The Sunday Times, which devoted thousands of words to his version of events.

I can personally testify to the fact that he has also set up his very own 'media monitoring unit'. When I said on the radio that I thought Sixsmith may have given his side of the story in order to get a big pay-off, and wondered aloud how much he would have been paid by The Sunday Times, he rang up the programme's producer and demanded I clarify that he did not get paid for the piece.

I hadn't realised that he didn't need the money because, as the apparent smear campaign against him has already been quick to allege, he owns a large house and is known by his mates as 'Six-figures' because he won't work for less.

One paper that hasn't given Sixsmith an easy ride is The Mirror. Its lobby man, Paul Gilfeather, who broke the second memo story weeks ago, has exposed how Sixsmith briefed against Moore, a fact he conveniently forgets to mention to The Sunday Times.

Some of Gilfeather's lobby colleagues think he has broken their unwritten code by reporting what Sixsmith privately briefed. There is no doubt that Sixsmith will be furious with Gilfeather.

But just because Gilfeather's paper has sided against Sixsmith doesn't mean it backs Byers. Along with most other papers, The Mirror believes he should be sacked.

Byers is the real loser in this saga, and is now damaged beyond repair.

The media has decided he has to go - and go he will, but at a time of Blair's choosing, not the media's.

Byers' problems have nothing to do with spin, though he should, of course, have sacked Moore months ago. His problem is that he is not a very good minister.

When Byers was at the Treasury as chief secretary it was the only time that I ever heard civil servants openly criticise a minister.

To be blunt, they thought he was crap.

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