Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "Nick Brown to support Blair on top-up fees"

News that Nick Brown pulled out of a TV interview on top-up fees was enough for some hacks to claim that he had been persuaded by Gordon Brown to back Tony Blair.

Nick Brown is as likely to support the Prime Minister on this issue as Charles Clarke is to get a job in a Gordon Brown-led cabinet. Like his namesake, Nick does not support the idea of variable fees, but, unlike the Chancellor, he has no need to remain loyal to the Prime Minister.

The former chief whip and the PM go back a long way, and were it not for "Newcastle" Brown, Blair would probably have given up politics years ago.

It was Nick Brown who was responsible for getting the young Blair elected on to the shadow cabinet. Not because Nick thought much of him but because Gordon Brown wanted him on. In those days, northern MPs gave Nick their proxy votes and he distributed them as he saw fit. Left to their own devices, there is no way that any of these horny-handed sons of toil would have voted for a public school boy. Once elected, it was Nick Brown who ensured Blair stayed in the shadow cabinet, despite pressure from his union mates, who thought Blair was a prat.

A secret deal between Blair and Brown ensured that Nick became chief whip, despite opposition from Peter Mandelson, who asked: "How can we have a gay chief whip?" This was before Nick was "outed" by the News of the World. Downing Street not only did nothing to stop the NoW from revealing that the chief whip was gay, it encouraged it. Now there's gratitude for you. And just to show how grateful Blair was, he eventually sacked him. Somehow I don't think Nick will change his mind about top-up fees.