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04/09/2010 - Introducing Charlie Whelan: Spin Doctor, NuLabour Insider and potential Leadership Kingmaker

OVER the last couple of months, Solidarity has been looking at the establishment trade union leaders and the unions they represent. We’ve been particularly interested in both the assets of the unions and the salaries and benefits of the leaders.


To this end, we’ve produced four main articles – Will the UMF Cash Cow Be Axed? (11/06/2010), How The Mighty Fall (21/06/2010), Nice Work If You Can Get It (17/07/2010) and Socialists – My Arse! (21/08/2010). All have illustrated that these unions – and their leadership - have incomes and assets that would be the envy of many fat-cats and PLCs!
We’ve looked at several different leaders and unions. However, one union and one name have cropped up several times. The union is Unite and the name is Derek Simpson.
Derek Simpson is one of Unite’s joint general secretaries (the other is Tony Woodley).


Mr. Simpson stands out in particular, because his salary varies substantially from report to report. According to the Trade Union Rich List (produced by the Tax Payers’ Alliance) he is “on a cool £120,328.” This would have been for 2008-2009. But according to a report in the Sun (from August of this year) he’s quoted as earning £196,497 a year.
That’s a difference of over £76,000. It’s not clear if this difference represents a pay rise or a pay rise plus benefits.


One man, however, who might be able to tell us, is Charlie Whelan.


Whelan is currently the political director of Unite.  Prior to his current job he was one of the spin doctors that emerged in NuLabour during the 1990’s and performed that service for Gordon Brown before resigning due to the fallout in those circles as a result of the Robinson-Mandelson loan controversy in 1999.


The son of a civil-servant, Whelan had a brief period working as a foreign exchange dealer before becoming a union official in 1981.  Something he shares in common with his present boss, Derek Simpson, is that he was also for a time a member of the Communist Party although his commitment to the Marxist party was not as strong as Simpson’s who sustained membership of that organisation until its dissolution in 1992.  Whelan is reported to still praise Che Guevara.


After his departure from politics in 1999, Whelan spent a good deal of his time at his property in the Scottish Highlands, near to Grantown-on-Spey, indulging in the very proletarian activity of Salmon fishing.  He returned to the political fray in 2007 when he was appointed to his present position with Unite and once more garnered media attention in the run-up to the General Election as a result of the close relationship between NuLabour and that union.  (See the article Where now for the establishment unions? posted on this site 02/06/2010 for more on the Unite/NuLabour relationship.)
As the ballot papers go out for the Labour leadership election it will be interesting to see what role Charlie Whelan plays in the contest.  Unite has recommended that its members vote for Ed Miliband.  As the political director of Britain’s biggest union, Whelan could very well find himself in the position of kingmaker in this contest and even going on to wield the kind of influence inside NuLabour as he did in days gone by.  An interesting situation for us to watch.