Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "Enron-Labour sleaze"

It may be two months since the US energy giant Enron crashed, but only recently have the British press linked the company to the Labour Party. The Tories gleefully told the Westminster lobby that Enron had donated funds to Labour, only to find out a few hours later that they, too, had received money. None of this bothered the right-wing end of the market, which launched a "guilt by association" campaign: anyone who had ever met or been seen with anyone from Enron or its accountants, Arthur Andersen, was guilty.

I'm not one to leap to the defence of Peter Mandelson, but he would have been guilty of not doing his job had he not met anyone from Enron. It is easy to link Mandelson with any scandal, and the same goes for the New Statesman's owner, Geoffrey Robinson, who was probably too busy sorting out Coventry City FC to be worrying about his links with Andersen.

At the start of the week, Robinson was in the frame for accepting free research on the windfall tax when Labour was in opposition. By the end of the week, it was "claimed" that he had paid for it himself. His biography gives a full account of these events - but to consult that would have been too much research.

Some hacks were so desperate to "get" Labour that they recycled old stories. My favourite one is about my old boss's flat. Gordon Brown used to joke about it once belonging to Robert Maxwell, which he discovered only after he had bought it from the receivers, Arthur Andersen. The Sunday Times - conveniently forgetting that it had carried an advert for the flat - claimed that Brown bought it privately on the cheap. Oh yes, and Karl Milner, who did the photocopying in Brown's office five years ago, worked for a lobby company that worked for Enron. So Brown must be guilty.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Take cover: evil is back