Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - ''Europe row - Peter Mandelson is right''

My old mate Martin Kettle at the Guardian is well known for his defence of our Great Leader, but he must be the last man in the comment business still backing Peter Mandelson.

The Prince of Darkness just couldn't resist getting in on the latest Europe story, could he? Backing Britain against the shameless Jacques Chirac wouldn't get Mandy the headlines, so instead he told us to make "a change of tone and substance" over the rebate row and to stop being "neo-Thatcherite as if nothing has changed". Mandelson then briefed his media mates that the attack was really directed at Gordon Brown and Jack Straw.

"Mandelson was right," Kettle tells us, conveniently forgetting that Chirac had deliberately raised the issue of the British rebate in order to deflect attention from his humiliating Euro referendum defeat. There is also the small fact that 40 per cent of the whole European budget goes to subsidising farmers. Great news for Africa!

Unbelievably, Kettle goes on to say that it was Irwin Stelzer, one of Rupert Murdoch's bagmen, who forced Tony Blair to commit Britain to a referendum in return for support from the Sun. It was, of course, Straw and Brown who made the Prime Minister see sense on this one. The truth is that Euro fanatics have had their day. The people of France and the Netherlands have spoken.

It is not often one feels sorry for Blair, but I do. He faces six months of dealing with the French president. The only time I met Chirac was at a meeting to finalise the demise of "duty free". The French diplomats were as shocked as anyone when he asked Blair: "Why are we abolishing duty free when it is so popular?" You may well ask - but that's the EU for you.

This article first appeared in the 20 June 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Latin America rises up