Behold a fallen idol. They call him Charlie Whelan, the
Chancellor’s 44-year-old ex-Communist personal spin doctor whose basic
Anglo-Saxon briefing has in 20 months wreaked havoc on this
In this time he has driven Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair’s press
secretary, to distraction even to the point where No 10 was until last
weekend curiously calling for his head rather than chopping it off. He
raised a tremendous furore over the Government’s approach to European
economic and monetary union before it became transparently enthusiastic
about it. He allowed himself to be seen on television cheerfully
admitting to misleading journalists. He is presumed to be the author of
a vicious, unattributable attack on Peter Mandelson’s
worst-of-all-worlds compromise over Post Office privatisation.
And then he became prime suspect in the leaking of details of Mr
Mandelson’s extraordinary appetite for borrowed money, which has ensured
not only that he became the ex-DTI Secretary but that Geoffrey Robinson,
his rich benefactor, became the ex-Paymaster General. Mr Whelan has
protested his innocence and we are told No 10 believes him.
So why is he going as soon as it is convenient ? The answer is that he
has long since reached the end of his useful life. Indeed, he tacitly
recognised this in his announcement by saying it was becoming very
difficult for him to do his job. Whenever the Government got into a
scrape which went anywhere near the Treasury he came under suspicion. He
was seen to be louche, indiscreet and accident-prone. He was doing
nobody any good, least of all his boss Gordon Brown to whom he seemed to
owe sole allegiance.
Worse still, his efforts - along, it must be said, with other political
advisers and Mr Mandelson who led by example - have reduced New Labour
to a quivering mass of bitter personal recriminations. The holiday
papers entertained us with Ministerial rogues gallery features showing
who is, or was, spitting blood about Charlie - at least seven Cabinet
Ministers - and who for the moment tolerate him.
Against this background, Mr Whelan, as the most notorious political
adviser on the block, was living on borrowed time. It is a matter for
serious rejoicing by serious communicators that it has now run out. No
institution can for long put up with someone who obviously operates
against its wider corporate interests. Mr Whelan’s surrender to this
reality makes a powerful case for the quiet, effective professionalism
of the Government Information and Communications Service, as it is now
described. Indeed, the Government would not be in this presentational
New Year mess if it had not at the outset set out to destroy the GICS
and rely on hooligans like Mr Whelan. It has only itself to blame.