Charlie Whelan

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Charlie Whelan is a former special adviser to the Labour Party[1] known for being "single-minded and fiercely loyal to Brown".[2] He is also a former political director of the trade union Unite.

Background

A former member of the Communist Party, Whelan was educated at Ottershaw state-run boarding school near Chertsey in Surrey, before going on to study Politics at the City of London Polytechnic (which became the London Guildhall University in 1992). His father was a Conservative-voting civil servant.[3]

Following a brief stint as a foreign exchange dealer, Whelan became a researcher to Clydeside shipworkers' leader Jimmy Airlie of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU) where he worked from 1981 to 1992. Initially charged with the task of negotiating with multinational corporations such as Ford, Whelan went on to become adept in a press capacity and successfully made Bill Jordan and Gavin Laird among the most well-known union leaders.[4]

In 1992, Whelan was appointed as spokesperson and press secretary to Labour MP Gordon Brown. When Brown was appointed as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1997, Whelan was employed as one of his special advisers where he worked until 1999. According to PR Week, Whelan "was to Brown the Chancellor what Alastair Campbell was to Prime Minister Tony Blair".[5] As journalist Robert Gray notes, Whelan was instrumental in the electoral success of New Labour in 1997: "Together with Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell and David Hill, Charlie Whelan belongs to the spin quartet that propelled Labour to power in May".[6]

1999, Resignation from the Labour Party

Following revelations about a secret loan from Geoffrey Robinson to Peter Mandelson in 1999, Whelan resigned. He "hated being forced out of political life and was in the wilderness for eight long years".[7]

2007, Appointed to Unite

In 2007, Whelan was appointed as political director of the trade union Unite. As journalist Hamish Macdonell writes, Whelan "can be a brute – someone who knows his way around power and is not afraid to use it".[8]

2009, 'Smeargate'

In April 2009, it emerged that former No. 10 adviser Damian McBride and former editor of LabourList website Derek Draper had exchanged a series of e-mails discussing plans to smear David Cameron and other Conservatives. Whelhan was copied in to the e-mails, excerpts of which read as follows:

On 13 Jan 2009, at 18:34, "Damian McBride" wrote:


Gents
A few ideas I've been working on for Red Rag. For ease, I've written all the below as I'd write them for the site, but obviously Andrew will want to adapt for his own house style, length, etc.
The first one is a solid investigative story, so may be a good one to use early. The other 3 are gossipy and mainly intended to destabilise the Tories.
I'm not sure how to set up easy links in the copy of the text, so I've stuck in the full links below each bit of relevant text.
Damian
From: Derek Draper
Sent: 13 January 2009 18:56
To: Damian McBride
Cc: Dodgshon, Andrew; Whelan, Charlie
Subject: Re: Rag [UNCLASSIFIED] [Non-Record]
These are absolutely totally brilliant Damian.
I'll think about timing and sort out the technology with Andrew this week so we can go asap.
Do we want to tip off anyone about Red Rag having set up? Walters? I could do it and say LabouLlist had been sent the link anonymously.
PS Don't forget LabourList Damian![9]

2010, Unite and the Labour Election Campaign

In March 2010, Conservative MP (and now Secretary of State for Education) Michael Gove accused Labour of abandoning modernisation by handing power to "the throwbacks of the old Militant Tendency", adding "There can be few more powerful forces of conservatism opposed to flexibility, freedom and choice than the Whelanist Tendency now in control of the Labour Party." Gove's party published a dossier claiming that Whelan was now "controlling" Labour politicians, policies and their election campaign. Conservative MP Ben Wallace also complained about trade union officials having Parliamentary access passes, saying "Union bully boys like Charlie Whelan and Labour’s paymaster Tony Woodley strut around Parliament like they own the place."[10] Journalist Hamish Macdonell writes that "within Labour itself the jury is still out on whether he is an asset or an election-losing liability":

the reason he is back on our TV screens is because the cosy relationship between Unite and the Labour Party has been thrust to the top of the political agenda once again, and Whelan finds himself personifying some of the most pertinent political issues of the moment, brought into focus by the BA dispute.[11]

2010, Ed Miliband's Labour leadership victory: "It was Charlie Whelan wot won it"[12]

Following the announcement of the Labour leadership election result in September 2010, Whelan claimed to have persuaded six Labour MPs to switch their second preference to victor Ed Miliband. Miliband took just 72 of 635 first preference votes, prompting concerns in some quarters that the unions now have "a dominant say in leadership elections".[13] Miliband remarked "Why did the trade unions endorse me? Not because there was some kind of cabal who made the decision". Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland offers Whelan's alternative account of the unions' role:

The former spokesman for Gordon Brown told me in the Radisson hotel how the "Big Four" union leaders had sat together in the summer working out who was best placed to be the "stop David" candidate. Their own personal preference would probably have been Ed Balls, but a lack of initial support among MPs suggested his chances were limited. "I'm pragmatic," Whelan said, explaining that the union men then came to the swift, unsentimental view that Ed Miliband was the likeliest to thwart his older brother, whom they regarded as too Blairite.
Formal endorsements soon followed from Unite, Unison and the GMB. Whelan and his colleagues focused their energies particularly on second preferences, seeking to persuade union members that even if they put Balls, Andy Burnham or Diane Abbott first, they should place the younger Miliband second – calculating, rightly, that it was those second votes that would determine the election.
The effort reached its climax at the Trade Union Congress earlier this month. Whelan targeted a dozen union-backed MPs who were at the TUC, putting pressure on them to switch their second preference to Ed Miliband. He had, he says, a 50% success rate, converting six of the 12. Run the maths and, under Labour's weighted electoral college system, the votes of those six MPs may have been just enough to have given the younger Miliband his one-point margin of victory.[14]

2010, Resignation from Unite

In September 2010, Whelan announced his intention to formally stand down from Unite during the Labour Party Conference 2010 (26th to 30th September in Manchester). He said on his Twitter page: "Lots of calls from hacks about my future. Never knew they cared. Yes leaving Unite. Yes writing book. Yes fishing more. Yes will be back." He is writing a book which addresses Labour's relationship with the media, although "It won’t be a pompous book. It won’t be Mandelson did this, I did that".[15]

Contact, Resources, Notes

Contact

Twitter: http://twitter.com/charliewhelan

Notes

  1. Info-Dynamics Research, "Where are they now? The 1997/1998 Special Advisers to the Labour Government", GMB: April 2006 Briefing, p14, accessed 26.09.10
  2. Robert Gray, "Profile: Charlie Whelan, Press Secretary to Gordon Brown - Gordon Brown’s fiercest ally", PR Week UK, 17.10.99, accessed 26.09.10
  3. Staff reporter, "Charlie Whelan the boarding school 'breakfast boy'", The Daily Mail, 21.03.10, accessed 26.09.10
  4. Robert Gray, "Profile: Charlie Whelan, Press Secretary to Gordon Brown - Gordon Brown’s fiercest ally", PR Week UK, 17.10.99, accessed 26.09.10
  5. Hamish Macdonell, "Profie: Charlie Whelan", The Scotsman, 21.03.10, accessed 26.09.10
  6. Robert Gray, "Profile: Charlie Whelan, Press Secretary to Gordon Brown - Gordon Brown’s fiercest ally", PR Week UK, 17.10.99, accessed 26.09.10
  7. Hamish Macdonell, "Profile: Charlie Whelan", The Scotsman, 21.03.10, accessed 26.09.10
  8. Hamish Macdonell, "Profile: Charlie Whelan", The Scotsman, 21.03.10, accessed 26.09.10
  9. James Forsyth, "Emails show that Charlie Whelan was copied into Draper and McBride's exchange about Red Rag", The Spectator, 11.04.09, accessed 26.09.10
  10. Tim Shipman, "New age of the union dinosaur: Brown's handed control of Labour back to the militants, claim Tories", The Daily Mail, 17.03.10, accessed 26.09.10
  11. Hamish Macdonell, "Profie: Charlie Whelan", The Scotsman, 21.03.10, accessed 26.09.10
  12. Jonathan Freedland, "Charlie Whelan: I persuaded six MPs to switch second preference to Ed Miliband", The Guardian, 26.09.10, accessed 26.09.10
  13. Patrick Wintour, "Ed Miliband leadership: the unions had the last word", The Guardian, 26.09.10, accessed 26.09.10
  14. Jonathan Freedland, "Charlie Whelan: I persuaded six MPs to switch second preference to Ed Miliband", The Guardian, 26.09.10, accessed 26.09.10
  15. Christopher Hope, "Charlie Whelan to stand down from Unite to write book", The Telegraph, 15.09.10, accessed 26.09.10