‘Drug use; spousal abuse; secret alcoholism; extra-marital affairs. I estimate I did nothing with 95 per cent of the stories I was told. But, yes, some of them ended up on the front pages of Sunday newspapers.’ And with this starts the serialisation of what will be perhaps the most explosive book about British politics for ten years. Damian McBride’s memoirs look every bit as good as I had hoped. The Daily
Mail serialisation today gives a taste of what should really be called ‘confessions of a political hit man’ – the methods and motives of Team Brown, perhaps most ruthless and effective bunch of character assassins that Westminster has ever seen. I was one of McBride’s targets rather than his clients, so it is from no sense of friendship or loyalty that I say he is something of a genius. Even when sending me an email basically telling me I’d never work in this town again, I admired the quality of his writing and the richness of the content. (The email was so informative that I based an entire Spectator cover story out of it). And what inspired him? Damian tells us:-
‘Until I completely lost my way at the end, everything I did as Gordon’s spin doctor, I did out of devotion, out of loyalty and out of some degree of love for the greatest man I ever met.’
Obviously, McBride needed to get out more. It ought to be remembered that he was a civil servant, who adapted to the art of political warfare better than anyone in the Labour Party. As he puts it:
‘I offered [Gordon Brown] the best press he could hope for, unrivalled intelligence about what was going on in the media and access to parts of the Press that no other Labour politician could reach. And my attack operations against his Labour rivals and Tory enemies were usually both effective and feared, with me willingly taking all the potential risk and blame. When I started writing this memoir, I was warned by an old colleague that — whatever I did — I should not admit to ‘doing in’ any Labour MPs or Ministers, because: “Even though people know you did, confirming it will make you a pariah for life.” I decided to ignore that advice precisely because I regret — or have retrospective reservations about – the vast majority of what I did.’
And that’s why the book is worth reading. Civil servants are supposed to be politically neutral – and McBride was! He hardly ever turned his formidable firepower on Tories. His battles were red-on-red. Here’s what he says about Charles Clarke.
‘For several weeks in succession in 2005 when Charles Clarke was Home Secretary and a declared opponent of Gordon’s succession to the premiership, I orchestrated what looked like a briefing war between Charles and Tony Blair’s anti-social behaviour guru, Louise Casey. Each of them in turn appeared to goad the other by making some new announcement on the subject through the Sunday papers, or appearing to claim advance credit for something the other was planning to announce. There was already plenty of ill-feeling between them, but the briefings made it both public and self-fulfilling, contributing to Tony Blair’s sacking of Charles in May 2006. At a drink with Charles’s press team after the reshuffle, they were bitter about Louise’s role in undermining their boss and so oblivious of my role that they happily supplied details of how Tony Blair had been in tears when he told Charles the news, a bit of colour I obviously then briefed to the papers.’
What intrigues me is that his cover features four men: one of them Ed Balls. The same Ed Balls who tried to deny the closeness of his friendship with McBride when it all blew up. Will Balls’s involvement in the Brown black-ops operation become clear in the book? It’s published on Tuesday, on the day of Balls’ speech. Ah the games, the games…