Spin-doctor dons his new mantle

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The Independent Online
THE INFAMOUS "Mockney" accent was virtually absent, Peter Mandelson was a much- valued colleague and the word "bollocks" didn't cross his lips.

In his most difficult spinning operation to date, Charlie Whelan tried yesterday to reinvent himself as a loyal, unassuming civil servant as he finally quit his post as the Chancellor's press secretary.

Mr Whelan announced that he was to join BBC Radio 5 Live. The 44-year- old former Communist will start a new job in April as presenter of Sunday Service, a political programme for the BBC news and sport station. He will also write a football column for a newspaper and is in negotiation with Channel 4 to present a new sports series.

Mr Whelan cleared his desk at the Treasury yesterday, just over a week after he announced that his job had become untenable in the aftermath of the Mandelson loan affair. He was forced to go after claims that he had a role - which he denies - in leaking details of a pounds 373,000 home loan made to Mr Mandelson by the former paymaster-general, Geoffrey Robinson.

After years operating in the political shadows, Mr Whelan emerged blinking into the media spotlight to promote himself as a "100 per cent loyal" adviser who had never uttered a bad word against any Labour minister. The man more often known as "Treasury sources" or "friends of the Chancellor" spoke about his tenure for the first time in a rare on-the-record, totally attributable interview on Radio 4's "World At One" programme.

To the amusement of many at Westminster, he claimed that he had never "briefed irresponsibly" against cabinet ministers, and went on to describe Mr Mandelson as "a brilliant strategist". He said: "I could, hand on my heart, say I have never, ever said anything about other ministers. They're all doing a good job. I know the guys in the media want to think we're all feuding; it's absolute nonsense."

He also denied he had any part in the events that led to the resignation of the two ministers. "It's true Peter and me didn't go down for a pint at the Red Lion. But that doesn't mean to say I don't admire him and respect him. It doesn't mean to say we're feuding, all it means is we may have different interests. We're not going to a Tottenham match or whatever, but that doesn't mean to say you haven't got the same goals, the same beliefs, or same desire to see a Labour government succeed."