Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "Mandy to become London mayor"

Nice to know this column is getting noticed. An irate Andy Grice, the political editor of the Independent, challenged me in the bar of the Imperial Hotel, Blackpool. I'd upset him by teasing him last week for writing as fact that Tony Blair had written his own speech. "I wasn't the only one who wrote it," he complained. I apologise to Grice for not making it clear that he's not the only lobby hack who writes bollocks.

It's a story about one of Grice's old mates, Peter Mandelson, that caught my eye this week. "Mandy for Mayor?" roared the Daily Mail. This headline was based on a quote from Mandelson saying: "I am not my grandfather's grandson for nothing." His grandfather, Herbert Morrison, was once leader of London County Council, so sharp hacks put on a bit of spin (no doubt encouraged by Mandelson) and had their tall tale. The story actually originated on the new BBC London programme LDN, from its political editor, Jon Craig. Mandelson was speaking at a Labour fringe meeting, and though he didn't actually say that he wanted to be London mayor, Craig noticed that he didn't deny it either. Enough hacks followed up this rubbish to give the new programme plenty of publicity - exactly what the old pro wanted.

Mandelson is desperate for any publicity he can get, and it is not the first time he has managed to get this story up and running. Last time he used his bag-carrier, Oofy Wegg-Prosser, to spread it. The official quote he gave the press was: "I am the member for Hartlepool and that is how I intend to remain." The people of Hartlepool may be stupid enough to hang a monkey for being a French spy, and to elect a twice-disgraced minister, but we cockneys aren't so gullible.

This article first appeared in the 15 October 2001 issue of the New Statesman, A nation in panic