Tom Baldwin is a mad, bad but inspired choice for Ed Miliband’s press supremo. Those proclaiming that the new Labour leader should dispense with a sultan of spin should avert their eyes now. Ed has appointed a cross between Alastair Campbell, Hunter S Thompson and Rasputin.
When he worked for the Times, Tom Baldwin occupied that strange twilight world between hack and spinner. By day he adopted the pretence of loyal Thunderer scribe. But by night, when the bars, alcoves and corridors of Westminster grew dark, Tom Baldwin, New Labour tribune came to the fore.
He was totally unabashed about his support for the party. “I see my job is to keep Labour in power as long as I can,” he once told me. It wasn’t just the drink talking. Tom is a Labour man. Not as rooted in its culture and history as, say, a Campbell or a Routledge, but a true believer nonetheless.
He was also a brilliant journalist. His skill, which no one else mastered, was to win the trust and intimacy of the Blairite and the Brownite camps simultaneously. This was no mean feat, especially given that his own political instincts pulled him towards Blair, and the Brownite radar invariably flipped to alert mode when it detected someone not firmly anchored within the Brown sphere of influence.
His success was embedded in his innate sense of mischief. He revelled in causing trouble, regardless of the source or the victim. If the Blairites gave him a good story, he would launch it against Brown. If the Brownites responded, as they invariably did, he would send a salvo right back again.
Tom was a gun for hire. But always a Labour one.
When the party was in government, Tom almost became an extension of the Whitehall spin machine. When I was working for the GMB, and running hard against Blair’s PFI policy he caught me in the bar. “Just to let you know, we’re going to have to have a real go at you and [John] Edmonds. Nothing personal.” “The Times?” “Oh no, the government.”
His loyalty to Blair reached its peak during the Hutton inquiry. Journalists tasked with reporting the day’s events would return to the office to find Tom passionately downplaying the day’s most damning revelation: “It’s just not a story. It’s not a story.” When Blair and Campbell were vindicated, so was Tom Baldwin.
His new role with Ed Miliband is apparently yet to be defined. Some reports are that his position will be primarily strategic. Don’t believe it. Tom has good political antennae, but he is no blue-skies thinker. He will not be able to rise above the fray.
Ed has selected a spin doctor of the old school. He will want to roll up his sleeves and get stuck in where the bullets and briefings are flying. Tom Baldwin will shoot first and ask questions when the next election’s over.
Most importantly, he will bring some fire and fury to Team Ed. At last.
Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.