Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "I'll give Blair a f***ing migraine"

When Derek Simpson, the new general secretary of my old union Amicus, arrived at a TUC reception hosted by the traditionally right-wing steelworkers' union, the guests broke into spontaneous applause.

Simpson's arrival on the scene has also warmed the hearts of Labour hacks. The press had got bored with his predecessor Sir Ken Jackson, who was so right-wing that even Blair had become embarrassed about him being referred to as the PM's favourite union leader. It was Blair who told his Union Knight to sling his hook when he looked like challenging Simpson's victory.

It took the Prime Minister no time to invite Simpson round to his house for a little chat. The press conveniently forgot all about this when they reported that Simpson had refused to meet Blair a few weeks later, during his visit to the TUC. Asked if he wanted a few minutes with the great leader, Simpson simply said no, because he had nothing new to tell him.

This was naturally reported as a great snub to Blair, but immediately made Simpson an even bigger hero than he already was among the brothers and sisters at Blackpool. As for his alleged comments threatening to give Blair a f***ing migraine, this was simply a case of deliberate deception by the media.

Simpson's priority is to sort out a once-great union, not bother what Blair thinks. He has started by attacking scabby deals such as the Nissan agreement, which doesn't even recognise shop stewards.

Simpson left the Communist Party at the same time as me and he definitely isn't a dangerous union-militant head case. He simply wants to serve the members of the union that elected him.

This article first appeared in the 16 September 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Bush and Blair, on a wing and a prayer