Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "Country can't afford to pay firefighters"

Tony Blair has waited nearly a decade to smash a trade union, and now he sees his chance. When I worked in the Treasury, the civil service head of the Home Office, who then looked after firefighters' pay, wrote a long confidential memo to the head of the Treasury. They were worried that I might be leaking information to the Fire Brigades Union about their secret plan to smash the union in the event of a strike.

I wasn't leaking anything, but I was most certainly telling the then leader of the FBU everything I knew about what they were up to, and I'm proud of that. The Home Office, meanwhile, was briefing the press that Gordon Brown was behind moves to change the firefighters' pay formula. It was so inept, it didn't even realise that it was the union which wanted to do that, not Brown.

If Blair's government was active then in trying to undermine the FBU, you can imagine what it will be up to now. It will be using every trick in the book to defeat the union. John Prescott has already been removed from the fray by Alastair Campbell - having someone attacking "greedy firefighters" who has led the charge for six-figure cabinet salaries is not good PR. All they have to cling on to is their so-called independent inquiry. You can hardly blame the union for failing to co-operate when the government has intervened to stop the employers offering a decent pay rise. The inquiry was simply set up as a propaganda tool to fight the union. Not everyone will agree with everything that the FBU is doing, but would you risk your life every day for £21,000? Given the barrage of abuse the firefighters will face from Blair's men, they deserve our unqualified support.