Whelan backed by Beckett

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The Independent Online
A CABINET dispute deepened yesterday over whether Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, should dismiss his controversial press secretary after allegations that he played a part in the downfall of Peter Mandelson.

Margaret Beckett, Leader of the Commons, gave her public support to Mr Brown's efforts to keep Charlie Whelan despite demands by several other cabinet colleagues for him to be ousted.

A defiant Mr Whelan is due back at his Treasury desk today after a walking holiday near Inverness, Scotland. One friend said: "People have predicted his demise before and been proved wrong. He has done nothing wrong and so there are no grounds for any action against him."

Supporters of Mr Mandelson are convinced that details of his pounds 373,000 personal loan from Geoffrey Robinson, the former paymaster-general, were passed by Mr Whelan to Paul Routledge, author of an unauthorised biography of Mr Mandelson. Mr Routledge denied Mr Whelan was his source but revealed at the weekend that he had tried to remove the revelation from his book because he believed Downing Street would suspect Mr Whelan and demand his sacking.

Yesterday Mrs Beckett told BBC Radio 5 Live that Mr Whelan was an "excellent communicator" and suggested his enemies were seeking to make him a scapegoat for the Mandelson affair.

"I think when people get cross about some of the things that happen obviously they look for people to blame and the flak flies. But the Government as a whole works well together and that includes the Treasury team," she said.

Asked whether she was among the group of ministers demanding Mr Whelan's resignation, she replied: "I never subscribe to demanding anybody's head on a platter, particularly not when they are good at their job."

Mr Whelan's survival prospects received a boost when Downing Street insisted his future was a matter for Mr Brown rather than Mr Blair. The Tories accused the Prime Minister of "lacking the courage to order his dismissal".

Ministers who want Mr Whelan moved are threatening to raise the issue at next week's cabinet meeting.

Some ministers believe Mr Blair wants Mr Brown to make the decision to part company with his spin-doctor, so it does not appear the decision was imposed on the Chancellor. They believe Mr Whelan will keep his job in the short term, but will switch to another post after the dust has settled on Mr Mandelson's resignation.