Whelan on Miliband, Mandelson and election defeat

“All they were interested in was getting Miliband in,” says former spin doctor. “I was sickened.”

Today's Daily Mail has what it claims is the first major newspaper interview with Charlie Whelan since Labour came to power in 1997. Whether that's hyping things a little or not, the joint interviewers, Andrew Pierce and Amanda Platell, appear to have got what they were after from the outspoken Whelan.

Here are some of the "highlights" for those of you yet to get down to the newsagent's . . .

On Peter Mandelson and the 2010 election campaign

Peter claims he is a great strategist and campaigner. In truth, the great campaigner was Gordon Brown, who masterminded the 1997, 2001 and 2005 victories. Peter ran two campaigns: 1987 and 2010.

I'd been to America to the Democrat Convention and had seen how Obama had revolutionised the way you use modern media. Peter was stuck in the past.

He was meant to be the conductor of the orchestra, but he wanted to be up front blowing his own trumpet.

On David Miliband and the plots against Gordon Brown

At the time, there were genuine leadership challenges which made us less and less electable. The first rule of politics is that the public do not like divided parties.

[Although he won't identify him, it is obvious Whelan thinks David Miliband was central to the plot. When we suggest the former foreign secretary's name, Whelan shrugs and says:]

You don't need to be a genius to work that out.

On the "defeatist" Blairites

HQ was full of Blairites. Their heart wasn't in it. They didn't think they could win it, and they didn't have any interest in Gordon. They were waiting to lose. All they were interested in was getting Miliband in. I was sickened.

So far, Whelan, an active tweeter, has yet to comment on the Mail's splash.


Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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After the “Tatler Tory” bullying scandal, we must ask: what is the point of party youth wings?

A zealous desire for ideological purity, the influence of TV shows like House of Cards and a gossip mill ever-hungry for content means that the youth wings of political parties can be extremely toxic places.

If you wander around Westminster these days, it feels like you’re stepping into a particularly well-informed crèche. Everyone looks about 13; no one has ever had a job outside the party they are working for. Most of them are working for an absolute pittance, affordable only because Mummy and Daddy are happy to indulge junior’s political ambitions.

It’s this weird world of parliament being dominated by under 25s that means the Tory youth wing bullying scandal is more than just a tragic tale. If you haven’t followed it, it’s one of the most depressing stories I’ve ever read; a tale of thirty-something, emotionally-stunted nonentities throwing their weight around at kids – and a promising, bright young man has died as a result of it.

One of the most depressing things was that the stakes were so incredibly low. People inside RoadTrip 2015 (the campaigning organisation at the centre of the scandal) cultivated the idea that they were powerbrokers, that jumping on a RoadTrip bus was a vital precondition to getting a job at central office and eventually a safe seat, yet the truth was nothing of the sort.

While it’s an extreme example, I’m sure it happens in every political party all around the world – I’ve certainly seen similar spectacles in both the campus wings of the Democrats and Republicans in the US, and if Twitter is anything to go by, young Labour supporters are currently locked in a brutal battle over who is loyal to the party, and who is a crypto-Blairite who can “fuck off and join the Tories”. 

If you spend much time around these young politicians, you’ll often hear truly outrageous views, expressed with all the absolute certainty of someone who knows nothing and wants to show off how ideologically pure they are. This vein of idiocy is exactly where nightmarish incidents like the notorious “Hang Mandela” T-shirts of the 1980s come from.

When these views have the backing of an official party organisation, it becomes easy for them to become an embarrassment. Even though the shameful Mandela episode was 30 years ago and perpetrated by a tiny splinter group, it’s still waved as a bloody shirt at Tory candidates even now.

There’s also a level of weirdness and unreality around people who get obsessed with politics at about 16, where they start to view everything through an ideological lens. I remember going to a young LGBT Republican film screening of Billy Elliot, which began with an introduction about how the film was a tribute to Reagan and Thatcher’s economics, because without the mines closing, young gay men would never found themselves through dance. Well, I suppose it’s one interpretation, but it’s not what I took away from the film.

The inexperience of youth also leads to people in politics making decisions based on things they’ve watched on TV, rather than any life experience. Ask any young politician their favourite TV show, and I guarantee they’ll come back with House of Cards or The Thick of It. Like young traders who are obsessed with Wolf of Wall Street, they don’t see that all the characters in these shows are horrific grotesques, and the tactics of these shows get deployed in real life – especially when you stir in a healthy dose of immature high school social climbing.

In this democratised world of everyone having the ear of the political gossip sites that can make or break reputations, some get their taste for mudslinging early. I was shocked when a young Tory staffer told me “it’s always so upsetting when you find out it’s one of your friends who has briefed against you”. 

Anecdotes aside, the fact that the youth wings of our political parties are overrun with oddballs genuinely worries me. The RoadTrip scandal shows us where this brutal, bitchy cannibalistic atmosphere ends up.

Willard Foxton is a card-carrying Tory, and in his spare time a freelance television producer, who makes current affairs films for the BBC and Channel 4. Find him on Twitter as @WillardFoxton.