Fraser Nelson

How Charlie Whelan killed New Labour

How Charlie Whelan killed New Labour
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Last summer, The Spectator received a letter from Charlie Whelan's solicitors complaining about this post - where we mention their client's spot of bother with his colleagues at Unite. Carter-Ruck were instructed on one of the no-win-no-fee deals: it cost Whelan nothing to sue, but could cost us £thousands to defend. So the lawyer's letter is, by itself, an effective form of intimidation. A magazine with a small budget obviously faces huge pressure to do what he wanted: apologise, pay up and (suspiciously) undertake not to pursue the story any further. Under the circumstances, The Spectator could do only one thing.

Our full investigation into Charlie Whelan is the cover story of tomorrow's magazine (see image, left). We have spoken to several Labour and union people - people who have no symapthy for our magazine, but who recognise that Whelan is trying to silence the press with libel threats and that he should be confronted. We have seen a copy of the grievance procedure brought against him by several members of Unite, some of who said they were too fearful of reprisals to be named. Three did name themselves. Carter-Ruck claimed their grievances were "withdrawn". In fact, the

Unite officers reached compromise agreements - the type where money changes hands. Their case was absolutely not dismissed.

Here is an extract from the cover piece, by myself and Ed Howker:

Mr Whelan's style - bullying - may be commonplace in the rougher world of Westminster (and, by some recent accounts, inside No10 itself). But in a union devoted to tackling bullying, such a modus operandi was extraordinary. After he had been there for little over a year, several of his colleagues brought a formal "joint grievance" against him seeking a full investigation into his behaviour. Only three complainants were prepared to name themselves: Sarah Merrill, John Cryer and Vicky Foxcroft. All were political officers, reporting directly to Mr Whelan.

The formal grievance, a copy of which has been obtained by The Spectator, said the others will not name themselves "due to fear of intimidation and reprisals, and due to the cultural atmosphere that prevails." In her complaint, Ms Merrill referred to "a real culture of fear, and a climate of bullying that [Mr Whelan] allows to take place in his department." She

mentioned "a verbal violent and abusive tirade" which he made. "People cannot reason with Charlie," says the grievance. "They are just there to do as they are told and do what he wants."

It also describes how he appointed John O'Reagan as his deputy without advertising the post, in defiance of union procedures, and then built up praetorians of his own. As the grievance put it, "a pattern of behaviour is allowed under Charlie's leadership" where the few whom he trusts "are abusive, aggressive, and generally intimidating to others with his knowledge and approval." His arrival at the Union has led to a "culture of bullying and intimidation that appears to be endemic."

We go on to explain how this power axis - Balls-Brown-Whelan - has surprisingly little ideological agenda. It's just power, for power's sake. The next mission is to fix the succession for Ed Balls. Who will oppose them? Well, Lord Mandelson is about the only one still standing. John Hutton, James Purnell, Alan Milburn, John Reid - all the big Blairite beasts are skulking away from Parliament. Whelan and his mates succeeded in keeping Brown in power. But the result was to kill New Labour. And for that, he deserves the gratitude of the Conservatives.

We asked Charlie Whelan and Unite numerous questions before publishing. They didn't answer any of them.  Would it not be better for Mr Whelan to engage with us openly than employ attack dogs like Carter-Ruck to issue threats and bluster?  Our story is on the newsstands tomorrow.