Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Damian McBride is contrite but proud

Power Trip: a decade of policy, plots and spin by Damian McBride , Biteback Publishing £20 This easily accessible account of the role of Gordon Brown’s former spin doctor Damian McBride at the centre of the new labour project, provides an insight into many of the main players as well as the murky world of Westminster’s journalistic goldfish bowl. A north London Irish Catholic boy McBride attained a degree from Cambridge, prior to landing himself in the fast stream of the civil service. He worked in customs, majoring on VAT, before moving onto the Treasury in 1999 where his skill as a manipulator rapidly landed him the head of communications position. The perception is of a man who works hard and plays hard. The playing seems to consist in the main of fanatical support for Arsenal Football Club and drinking alcohol. McBride provides interesting incites on the Eds, Miliband and Balls. He says that Ball’s “tough exterior and bullish style belied a real warmth and sensitivity, as well as some level of insecurity, while Ed Miliband’s friendly demeanour and natural good humour obscured a steely ruthlessness about his ambitions and a single minded sense of mission.” He believes Ball’s ideal would be to produce the perfect budget while Miliband would like to win a second term as Labour Prime Minister able to change British society and its economy for good. Not surprisingly McBride believes that the two men in tandem will be more than a match for messrs Cameron and Osborne come the next election. McBride also has an interesting view on the Brown/Blair feud that raged for most of the time that Labour was in government. He believes it was good for the Labour Party and the country because the conflict became the only story in town for the media. Issues like the public services, education and health were all seen through the prism of the feud but this kept these issues centre stage. The opposition were effectively excluded from the scene. Devotion to Gordon Brown, however, was central. “Whenever I was with him I felt I was in the presence of greatness and of genius and could never feel anything less than fierce and devoted loyalty, “ said McBride, who not surprisingly would virtually do anything to promote his boss. He dismisses the suggestions that he was at anytime out of control briefing off his own back. His value to journalists was in giving Brown’s line on everything, they were not interested in the personal views of a spinner. Once this currency had gone, McBride was irrelevant as far as the hacks were concerned. All seems to be going well for McBride and Brown up until the fateful decision in autumn 2007 to not go for a snap election. After this retreat, things seem to start falling apart. McBride believes that he was unjustly blamed by Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander for briefing against them. The writing was on the wall for McBride when Brown brought back Peter Mandelson to steady his ship. There was hardly hidden disdain on both sides. On other individuals, McBride dismisses Chancellor Alastair Darling as simply having a bad media operation that kept cocking things up. He refutes any claim he was briefing against Darling, declaring it was more a case of damage limitation. He quotes at some length the interview with the Guardian when Darling said it was the worst economic crisis in 60 years. He is equally dismissive of David Miliband’s efforts to unseat Brown as leader, accusing him or high handedness and a willingness to retreat at the first sign of resistance. McBride finally fell, when emails about Tory politicians between himself and Derek Draper became public. There has been much hot air around concerning the publication of this revealing book. The sight of the likes of Alastair Campbell climbing up onto the high moral ground to accuse McBride and others of skulduggery and costing Labour the last election was nauseating in the extreme. Journalists also who entered into a faustian pact with McBride that saw them get exclusives and splashes on a regular basis have much to answer for. McBride was good at what he did but does now seem to have had time to reflect. “I regret - or at least have retrospective reservations about - the vast majority of what I did and, as my old parish priest Father Cassidy used to tell me when I went to confession as a child, you can’t expect forgiveness unless you speak your sins out loud.” There is some contrition, though there is much of this book that seems to be a trip down memory lane, reliving the old times, when Gordon Brown really did save the world. A good read but one unlikely to do much to enhance the reputations of the political or media spheres to the wider world.

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