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NEWS Tuesday, 9 March, 1999, 19:45 GMT
Charlie Whelan spins it softly
Whelan
Charlie Whelan was one of Gordon Brown's closest aides
For both his previous Budgets, Chancellor Gordon Brown had his ultra-loyal spin-doctor Charlie Whelan by his side.

Not this time, though. Whelan was forced to give up being his master's voice as part of the fall-out over the Peter Mandelson home-a-loan affair at the start of the year.

To check that his skills have not wasted away through lack of use, BBC News Online asked him how he would spin this Budget.

"Well I don't think it needs any spinning, does it?" he immediately spun. "The Budget speaks for itself.

"In a sense, it's a defining moment for New Labour, because here we have a Labour government cutting the basic rate of income tax - something people wouldn't expect it to do.

"But it's clearly the right thing to do, because Gordon Brown talked about making work pay. And if you have a lower rate of income tax, then clearly work pays more."

For this year's Budget, Chancellor Gordon Brown had no Charlie Whelan to spin for him
In his time, Whelan on occasion proved himself expert at spinning a story every which way but straight - even admitting on national television, while still working for the chancellor, that he was sometimes "economical with the truth" when it came to political journalists.

If he were still in post and spinning the 1999 Budget to The Daily Mail and The Guardian, what would he tell each of them?

"The fact of the matter is I wouldn't need to ring The Daily Mail or The Guardian," he insisted. "Clearly, The Daily Mail is a newspaper that more and more is supporting the Conservatives and it will probably be more critical. But there again, even they wouldn't be able to fail to realise that this is a Budget that their readers would like."

"The Guardian will maybe say we" - he's not part of the government any more but Whelan still thinks in terms of 'we' - "should have put more money into health and education. I think certainly Gordon has done enough on that score."

'I can't spin it'

So would he spin it as a redistributive or a tax-cutting Budget? "You'd need to look at all the figures, and I haven't had time to look at them all, but of course there'll be some redistribution there, but also it is a tax-cutting Budget."

So it's both at the same time? "Well there's no reasons why it can't be, is there?"

Did he seriously think people would believe him when he said this was Budget he would not, were he still at the Treasury, help along with any spin at all?

"I never did when I was there," he protests, almost convincingly. "I mean, of course, pre-Budget there's a lot of talk goes on and a lot of discussion. But once Gordon Brown's sat down there isn't really time to spin anything, everybody's there writing their newspaper columns and stories.

"And clearly the headline news will be that Gordon Brown cut income tax. I can't spin that - he did it."

Did Whelan realise how unlike the Whelan whose top-spin political journalists knew and loved he now sounded these days? "I'm absolutely straight down the line," he declared in a tone of injured outrage. And then he winked.

Links to more NEWS stories are at the foot of the page.


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