Miliband’s new spinner offers fire and fury

Tom Baldwin is a mad, bad but inspired choice for Ed Miliband’s press supremo.

Tom Baldwin is a mad, bad but inspired choice for Ed Miliband's press supremo. Those proclaiming that the new Labour leader should dispense with a sultan of spin should avert their eyes now. Ed has appointed a cross between Alastair Campbell, Hunter S Thompson and Rasputin.

When he worked for the Times, Tom Baldwin occupied that strange twilight world between hack and spinner. By day he adopted the pretence of loyal Thunderer scribe. But by night, when the bars, alcoves and corridors of Westminster grew dark, Tom Baldwin, New Labour tribune came to the fore.

He was totally unabashed about his support for the party. "I see my job is to keep Labour in power as long as I can," he once told me. It wasn't just the drink talking. Tom is a Labour man. Not as rooted in its culture and history as, say, a Campbell or a Routledge, but a true believer nonetheless.

He was also a brilliant journalist. His skill, which no one else mastered, was to win the trust and intimacy of the Blairite and the Brownite camps simultaneously. This was no mean feat, especially given that his own political instincts pulled him towards Blair, and the Brownite radar invariably flipped to alert mode when it detected someone not firmly anchored within the Brown sphere of influence.

His success was embedded in his innate sense of mischief. He revelled in causing trouble, regardless of the source or the victim. If the Blairites gave him a good story, he would launch it against Brown. If the Brownites responded, as they invariably did, he would send a salvo right back again.

Tom was a gun for hire. But always a Labour one.

When the party was in government, Tom almost became an extension of the Whitehall spin machine. When I was working for the GMB, and running hard against Blair's PFI policy he caught me in the bar. "Just to let you know, we're going to have to have a real go at you and [John] Edmonds. Nothing personal." "The Times?" "Oh no, the government."

His loyalty to Blair reached its peak during the Hutton inquiry. Journalists tasked with reporting the day's events would return to the office to find Tom passionately downplaying the day's most damning revelation: "It's just not a story. It's not a story." When Blair and Campbell were vindicated, so was Tom Baldwin.

His new role with Ed Miliband is apparently yet to be defined. Some reports are that his position will be primarily strategic. Don't believe it. Tom has good political antennae, but he is no blue-skies thinker. He will not be able to rise above the fray.

Ed has selected a spin doctor of the old school. He will want to roll up his sleeves and get stuck in where the bullets and briefings are flying. Tom Baldwin will shoot first and ask questions when the next election's over.

Most importantly, he will bring some fire and fury to Team Ed. At last.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.