Knives out for Brown's chief spin doctor

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The knives were out for Gordon Brown's chief spin doctor last night after a series of negative briefings against other members of the Shadow Cabinet.

Mr Brown's colleagues have opted to pin the blame for the attacks on Charlie Whelan, the shadow Chancellor's press officer. Tony Blair's staff were becoming so fed up with rebutting the stories that they were considering telling the party leader he should be disciplined, they said.

However, other sources said the anger against Mr Whelan was largely a deflection of growing dissent against Mr Brown himself. Recent announcements that Labour will be as tough as the Tories on public spending and tax have upset some of his colleagues.

Friends of Mr Whelan have denied that he has ever been involved in negative briefings against colleagues. Those who have been hit by suggestions that they have performed badly or are likely to be demoted include Robin Cook, John Prescott, Peter Mandelson, Chris Smith and Harriet Harman. Last night an official working for one Shadow Cabinet member said there was a "golden rule" of not giving damaging stories to the press about colleagues.

"Everybody else lives in peace and harmony with each other. We are all working as a team and there is one person we all have difficulty with," the source said.

Another added that while many of the complaints stemmed from disquiet about the alternative centre of power that Gordon Brown is seen to have built up, Charlie Whelan tended to "shoot from the hip" too often. "[Peter] Mandelson [Labour's chief spin doctor] can't stand him and thinks he is out of control, and there are people in the leader's office who think that as well."

Among the damaging stories which have appeared have been reports that Mr Smith, the shadow Health Secretary, was "in line for the chop".

A report which quoted "an ally of Mr Brown" also said that Tony Blair had "axed" plans to create as super-ministry for John Prescott. Robin Cook, the party's Foreign Affairs spokesman, was attacked for talking publicly of a Labour "landslide," though some colleagues said he had brought this on himself through loose talk at a Tribune anniversary party.

Even Peter Mandelson, the party's campaign manager, has been affected by the reports. A story in the Daily Telegraph said Mr Brown had been appointed as the party's chief campaign manager, and that Mandelson would stay in the background. One shadow cabinet had likened the spate of negative reports to the work of a "serial killer".

Last night friends of Mr Whelan said the backlash against him was borne of jealousy about Mr Brown's success, they said, and because he had been forced to make unpopular announcements.

Andrew Marr, page 17