Success hasn’t spoiled Charlie Whelan. He was a character assassin and thug long before he became famous. I last met the political director of Unite in the autumn of 2008 as he was encouraging compliant journalists to go after Alistair Darling. I thought I had witnessed all varieties of political hypocrisy, but Whelan still shocked me because he was attacking the chancellor for a crime that was no crime at all to anyone in the centre-left tradition.
Darling had correctly identified that allowing speculators to run riot had left Britain facing the worst financial crisis in 60 years. Gordon Brown had to betray a friend and denigrate an ally for this statement of the obvious because he was the bedazzled dupe who had borrowed as if the riotous market could roar on forever and told City bankers at the Mansion House in 2007 that Britain needed more, rather than less, of their “vigour, ingenuity and aspiration”. Despite their loudly professed left-wing principles and equally suspect mockney accents, Whelan and Damian McBride went for Darling for honestly admitting that boom and bust had not been abolished after all. Lobby correspondents behaved like children egging on the playground bully, and allowed “government sources”, hiding behind the coward’s cloak of anonymity, to tell their readers that the chancellor’s job was on the line.
The Thick of It does not give you the half of it. Before Darling, Whelan’s target was Martin Bright, the New Statesman‘s political editor. He boasted to Bright’s wife at the 2008 British Press Awards that he had the power to instruct Geoffrey Robinson, the magazine’s Brownite owner, to fire her husband and father of her children for not showing due respect to Gordon Brown and for making a documentary about Ken Livingstone’s indulgence of the Islamist far right. “He can’t allow this. He can’t allow criticism of Gordon. If Geoffrey’s got any sense, he’ll listen.” Bright was duly forced out, although the paper insists that it remains a part of the free press, and that its compliance with Downing Street’s publicly declared wishes was a coincidence.