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My anger at McBride is not his gift to the Tories now, but the one he and other GB people gave in helping Labour lose power

Posted on 22 September 2013 | 7:09am

I really like Iain Dale, and believe the Tories missed a trick when he tried and failed to become an MP for them. He would have been a good MP, and perhaps a good minister.

But he has fulfilled an important political function outside Parliament in building up a successful publishing and media company which is driven very much by his passion for politics and his insight that politics matters and its constant denigration in the media and public mind is a bad thing.

So in my criticisms of former Gordon Brown aide Damian McBride’s book, none of them are directed at Iain. He is a publisher, not a politician and I can totally understand why he bought that book, and published it in the conference season. I would not have sold it to the Mail, because I would not sell my dysentery to the sociopathic liar and politics-poisoner that is Paul Dacre, but I understand why, as a publisher knowing how few papers pay for books these days, he did. I also understand why he wants to defend the book. However, given Dale is basically a good man, I don’t know why he feels he has to defend McBride the man, who is not, as his own pen now confirms. And as Iain has asked me on his blog and elsewhere quite why I feel so angry about McBride, here is the answer.

Remember what my position was – Number 10 director of communications and strategy and the Prime Minister’s spokesman and press secretary. One of the reasons Tony Blair wanted me to do that job is because he knew I was a team player. In opposition, the team was Labour. In government, it was the government. I built systems and structures for the new media age on the principle of ‘maximum openness for maximum trust.’ I worked not just for Tony, but for John Prescott, Gordon Brown, Robin Cook, Mo Mowlam, whoever needed the support of the centre at the time knew they could get it because at the centre we were a team working for the bigger team. I developed ideas like the grid, still used by David Cameron, so that at a glance we could all know what was going on, who was supposed to be doing what. My morning meetings were open house to key departments likely to be in the news. My notes and memos were circulated around the entire government.

As my diaries show – and Iain, I think the real comparison on sales will be with The Blair Years, the second best selling book of the Blair era (Tony’s is first), not the full volumes which are aimed as much at students and historians as general readers – the one part of the operation that consistently made this approach difficult was Gordon’s Treasury. Gordon and I actually got on pretty well most of the time, even in the bad times, because I thought it was vital to keep channels open even when the papers were full of bile about TB and others that we knew was coming from his people. He would usually deny it, unconvincingly. There were various points when I refused to let his special advisers attend my meetings, and once McBride moved from being a ‘civil servant’ (a position he disgraced) to a political aide, I knew enough about him to make clear he could not come to any meeting I chaired, and I never exchanged a word with him thereafter, and never have. The systems that we developed for the whole government were being used by people like him for their own malign operations against members of the government. That, in my book, is criminal.

And my central point is one that I make in a book on the peace process, The Irish Diaries, that I am bringing out next month – that when, as in Northern Ireland, teamship drives the operation, it has a better chance of success, even in the most challenging circumstances. When members of the same team are trying to injure each other, the team fails. I make the analogy with football. I accept I am obsessed with sport, but it is partly because you can learn so much for politics, charity, business, anything, from seeing how good sports teams operate. Imagine a Barcelona where Xavi refuses to pass to Iniesta, and Fabregas will not make runs for Messi. Yet that is what we had at times, and I was the one usually picking up the pieces as the GB ballboys and kitmen – McBride, Charlie Whelan, etc – were charging onto the pitch hacking down our own star players when the floodlights went off. And what happened in the end? The first team broke up, and Tony left despite winning three elections on the trot, and then the second team lost, because the public didn’t rate them as highly as they used to rate the first one, and had had enough of us, and even though we managed to stop the other team getting a clear win, David Cameron is Prime Minister, screwing up the recovery, screwing up the NHS, destroying the lives of the poorest in Britain, attacking and blaming anyone but himself, foreign policy a shambles.

I honestly believe – and I know that this is a big if given how politics and politicians are – that if the big beasts of New Labour had all more or less stuck together, if Gordon had understood the value of the broader team and not just his own, if some of his darker people had been sacked early – or better still never been near the place – there is a chance we would still be there and this wretched coalition government would not be undoing so much of the good that Tony, Gordon and their colleagues did. That is the real crime of the horrible, nasty, vindictive politics and internal backstabbing that McBride, after all the years of GB denials,now admits to, so forgive me if I refuse to bow down before this attempt at Catholic redemption.

Iain said he was ‘disappointed’ that I removed material damaging to GB from The Blair Years. But I was open about doing so, and promised to publish the full diaries when he left office, which I have done. I feel the principles of teamship apply when you are in the team, and after you have moved on. Which is why my books remain one of Labour’s regular fundraisers and why I have raised well over six figures for the party from various sales and auctions of special editions.

And yes, I will admit that it annoys me the way that the sociopathic Dacre, and others in the media, try to present some kind of equivalence between the behaviour McBride and Whelan et al got up to, and the operation I ran from Number 10. When I call people like Dacre a liar, it is partly because they state without any evidence whatever that I briefed against ministers in the way these GB clowns did. I have accepted – and admitted in my diaries – on one occasion going over the top against Gordon, when his people were being particularly vile. I sometimes lost it with ministers when maybe I shouldn’t. But to their face, not to the press. I just didn’t do it, because I was part of a team.

The political journalists know that and knew that now but that was not ‘the story.’ Far better to have a story that said everyone was as bad as each other. Six of one half a dozen of the other. McBride exposes that lie once and for all. It was, and this is generous, eleven of one and one of the other. I was grateful to Sky’s Adam Boulton, who is not my biggest fan, for at least making the point that I did not indulge in the kind of thing McBride admitted to, and that I always sought to communicate a positive agenda for the government and focus on policy, not who’s up who’s down. What McBride has shown is that he was running a huge briefing operation against government ministers and civil servants – even the bloody secretaries for God’s sake – through smears, lies, leaks and theft. Often while drunk. There was one part of Downing Street – TB’s – trying to run the government and another – GB’s – trying to undermine it at every opportunity, no matter what the ethics, no matter what the cost to the government and the country.

So there you go, Iain. That explains why I think this matters, and why it makes me angry that someone who did so much damage to a good government and good ministers when he was there, thinks nothing of doing fresh damage to Labour under Ed Miliband now. And to those trying to say Ed must have known this was going on, he certainly did, because he complained about it, and asked my help in trying to deal with it. So did former Treasury Permanent Secretary and Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell who like me did not want McBride near the place – I made it a condition of returning to help Gordon in the last election that McBride and Whelan were not involved.

So McBride is having his fifteen minutes of fame. He and the book will be forgotten fairly quickly, and the caravan will move on. But the poison he sets out on those pages is one of the reasons we have David Cameron not Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or any other Labour figure in Downing Street. And ultimately Gordon, whose record as Chancellor and handling of the crash I will always defend, must take responsibility for that. He was a great Chancellor with a weakness for very bad people whose idea of political teamship was fundamentally at odds with Tony’s, mine, and the one that Gordon professed to sharing.

*** Thanks for ‘get well’ messages re dysentery. You can see the new, thinner, wanner me, talking about Labour, McBride, my novel on alcoholism, and the campaign I will be launching for Alcohol Concern tomorrow, on Andrew Neil’S Sunday Politics from 11am. I think I am on late.

  • Wow ! What magnificent writing. Can’t really comment on the content though there is a huge ring of truth about it. But as quality journalism this takes some beating.

  • zhandra

    very very interesting and sounds like a fair assessment to me. have a nice day x

  • p a t r i c k

    It is an excellent blog post and very timely.

    I think Damien McBride is an absolutely loathsome figure. To me it is unfathomable that a Labour guy would seek to damage Labour for money or or any other reason.

  • Ian Pace

    Supposing Tony Blair had remained prime minister after 2007, up to the following election, and he had had to deal with the collapse of the banks and credit crunch, do you not think he would have taken a lot of the flak for that, and may have come to an end almost as ignominious as did Gordon Brown? Even if trying to take a lot of the credit if Brown had still been Chancellor, and acted in a similar manner in response to the banking crisis as he did as PM?

    • Michele

      I really don’t think GB would have lost if it had not been for the anxious/over-exerting woman a few days before the election (plus his comments about her :-s …. )

      He was right about her but didn’t appear to be.

      • Liberalreform

        Tell us, how was GB right about that ‘anxious/over-exerting woman’?

        • Michele

          Wow, all of your posts to me that day, how lucky am I?

          Anxious – a word showing concern for someone’s state of mind, no matter how irrational their anxiety.

          She complained about being taxed ‘as a pensioner’.
          The tax thresholds start at the same figures for all of us on similar incomes, I see no reason for a pensioner to not start paying tax if they are receiving a similar figure in pension as a working-age person does (and no matter whether the latter’s is from employment, from interest or from benefits).

          She was receiving two pensions, her own council pension (final salary rate?) and her husband’s. Most pensions are accrued from contributions that were NOT taxed at the time taken, they are therefore deferred payment, taxing them after their maturing and deferment is obvious.

          Over-exerting – She was also obsessed enough about EU immigration to make it another of her questions and reason to reach him. We know she’s not the only person similarly upset about that. Had she fallen down in that crowd would that have been someone else’s fault too?

  • Christian

    Hi Alastair, given both you and TB clearly knew what sort of people/operation GB employed/ran why didn’t you/TB try to force him out? We can disagree on his merits as chancellor, I like many others think him a disaster, but surely TB could have found someone else that was competent and a team player?


    • Michele

      Because a brilliant person happens to be difficult is hardly reason to force them out, isn’t anyone with such ideas part way to being another McBride (in which case why not simply defend him and his dark behaviour)?

      We have, however, seen a colossal example of someone being forced out by so-called colleagues, only last year …. that snarky thing on a bike with a basket (he actually belongs on a scooter – one with ribbons on its handlebars and a safety belt).

    • Michele

      GB was a brilliant Chancellor in a decade when banking was opening up, one where we had previously only been able to apply for what UK banks would offer but ‘we’ were suddenly able to get loans and mortgages from US and Icelandic banks whose only raison d’etre was to competitively poach national business (and thereby dosh).
      One could suddenly get a mortgage for buy2let, something I find utterly immoral.
      This, coming after ‘right 2 buy’ completely distorted the housing market.

      Despite all that GB and Prudence, followed by Mr Darling, managed the country’s books far better than Osbo has half a chance of understanding.

      It’s not about how much, it’s about ‘what on’.

      Same thing with his ‘bedroom tax’; action isn’t needed about people having a spare room because a child has moved out.

      Action is needed against private landlords who know that however skyhigh their rent charges a council is obliged to house people and the DSS etc are then forced to pay whatever rent those private landlords charge (some of whose mortgages are being paid by benefits), Some of those Buy2Let mortgages are being paid for by DSS, the wrong people are being described as benefits rip-off arrrrtistes.

  • Ringsider

    I think you are, if anything, too soft on these people.

    Many of those who gravitated to Gordon were indeed the second XI – though they felt they should have been in the first. Their personal bitterness fed off and into Gordon’s who, of course, felt the same way. These were the boys (and they were all boys) who had been the brightest in their school and who had sailed through life excelling until they came across TB and his operation and they were judged to be just not good enough.

    In a way McBride was different even from that. Because he had no emotional connection with the Labour Party at all. Charlie Whelan was a nasty piece of work but in the end he was on our team, even if he was so often a liability, out of conviction. McBride was just there because it was where he got a gig.

  • Holby18

    All well and good but you should hold Gordon Brown to account as he knew what was going on and it was done for his benefit. I am not at all impressed that your anger is directed to D McBride alone without condemning his master. By all accounts EB was also embroiled too. I was incensed by GB and his cohorts and abandoned the Labour Party at the last election. I would never vote for GB. Further, there are too many GB people in the Shadow Cabinet and I do not like it. I would never be able to trust them and whilst EM may have been on the periphery, he was a Brownite.
    I voted for 50 years for the party even in the bad old days such as 1983 when the manifesto was abhorrent to me. Having overcome the dilemma I faced at the last election, I can now vote for the party that I feel would best deal with the problems the country faces. That will be the party that does not increase the deficit and so far today all I have heard of are rather splendid policies that we cannot afford.

    • Liberalreform

      It’s really easy to direct it all at McBride when the reality is the criticism should be directed at TB and GB with the emphasis on GB. Ultimately, TB was the PM and is accountable.

      • Michele

        Clegg is 100% to blame for the utter sell-out he (and even Tim Farron recently) have perpetrated.

        That does not equate to all party leaders being to blame for what their self-interested underlings are up to.

        It has been stated that GB did NOT know what his ‘team’ were doing, are you saying that that is lies (as in ….. you choose what you DO believe from McBride/Whelan and choose what suits you not to?).

        • Liberalreform

          I’m rather old fashioned in the sense that if something happens during a minister’s time in government then he should take responsibility. Now, the first thing they do is look around for who to pass the buck to.

          If GB didn’t know what was going on then he’s not quite as ‘brilliant’ as you suggest…or perhaps due to his ‘brilliance’ he chose not to know.

          • Michele

            I’d suggest you are rather something else.

            It is NOT possible to know everything if one has not been informed (and the nuance in that word explains why some of McBride’s ‘contacts’ didn’t welch on him ….. where does gossip start/stop?).

            Why would anyone even have suspected such behaviour and if they had, and had investigated, could’t they have been castigated for lack of trust? If not by decent ordinary human beings then NATURALLY handing gifts to the likes of the Wail’s hacks.

            Perhaps, given the spin you want to put on your own ‘rather’-ness I’d suggest ‘old-fashioned’ is the wrong coinage. xxx

      • Michele

        The scandalous behaviour happened long after TB (and even longer after AC) had left their roles.

        • Liberalreform

          No it didn’t.

  • Ehtch

    The media hysterical circus latch onto any little thread at the end of any Emperor’s clothes, and declare it is unravelling, I personal have noticed.

    Damian McBride’s memoirs are just that no doubt, true observation of the strength and weaknesses of anyone human, on two legs bipedal. But what do the media do? Yes, cherry pick for an hysterical news story. They will never change, and yes do need controlling and bullying when in said job given. Thankless task. I couldn’t do that job, I would be sectioned within a week, in a straight jacket, dribbling into my cup of tea.

  • Marie E Ferguson-Smith

    Labour did not need much help from McBride to loose power!
    Alaister you too have a lot to answer for!

  • reaguns

    Good appearance on Sunday Politics Alastair. A member of my household, who watched Andrew Neil rip apart poor performances from the likes of Hillary Benn on the matter, said “Wow Alastair Campbell is a bit better at handling Andrew Neil isn’t he.”
    I pointed out that, contrary to your image, it’s not that you ‘handled’ Andrew Neil well, or engaged in some kind of superior spin or interview technique, but rather that it seemed you were being honest. I for one do not feel that even your powers of spin, which are let’s be honest considerable, would enable you to simply act this, I think you were being honest.
    And I think Andrew Neil recognised this. If you had said “Oh I don’t think Gordon knew” or “Oh the voters don’t want to hear about this they want to hear about living standards and our plans to give free apple pie to working mothers” etc, then I think Andrew would have gone into attack mode, which perhaps you could have dealt with of course, but in this case you didn’t need to.

    I also do not think the Brownite vs Blairite thing was equal, or that McBride was your equivalent for what it’s worth.

  • Paula Louise Pearson

    You can’t complain about him recording what happened when you yourself have done the same. The behaviour should have been stopped at the time – would Fergie gave allowed the second team to have bought down the first? No. I felt so hopeful on 2 May 1997, a new begining, but by the end of it all pure disillusionment that so much in fighting had prevented more being achieved. I understand you may be, rightly, furious that Mcbride etc behaved as they did, but ultimately New Labour was elected by the people to serve the people and you must all take a share of responsibility for neglecting to do that due to the distraction of bitter in fighting. I will also always believe Blair wanted power for the right reasons, ie to do good, whilst Brown just wanted power, to which ironically he was unsuited, he should have put ego to one side , recognising that for that particular role, Blair was far better suited. As for Milliband trying to distance himself from New Labour – Blair restructured the party for good & correct reasons. & returning to the bad old days makes no sense whatsoever. All round a complete mess & very sad.

    • Michele

      Gordon Brown certainly used his power as Chancellor to build economic systems that worked, that were integrated.

      It’s impossible to believe he was impossible to work with when he does still have supporters who regret his 3yrs absence (not all as sick as McBride & Co).

      No, not well-rounded or PR-savvy enough for PM but definitely the best Chancellor this Parliament has seen in many decades.

      • Liberalreform

        You mean economic systems like the FSA, that worked out well for us all didn’t it!

        • Michele

          Why not display your own brilliance and explain what would have been your plan?
          What do you imagine Cable / Alexander would have done AT the time, in fact what did they say AT the time.
          Hindsight is useless.

          Biting each other’s heels aren’t we?

    • Geedon Bruce

      Paula, you don’t know what you’re talking about and on the evidence of your post, can’t even read. Or read properly anyway. I suggest you take a careful look at AC’s blog here again, and study it carefully. I refer particularly to your first sentence.

  • ecatflap

    Anybody who tells tales for money is little more than a prostitute

  • Finn McCann

    I’d prefer to wash dirty linen in Downing St Laundry

  • Mark Wright

    Gordon’s sense of entitlement has a lot to answer for.

    The likes of McBride are just nasty, unprincipled pieces of work. They can experience no pride, no satisfaction and no sense of achievement in the work they do. They will forever languish in the ‘B’ team. Desperate to be a ‘player’ they have neither the skill nor agility to be at the top table.

    Gordon’s mistake was to believe that only the obstacle to him realising his dream was Tony. Not true. Gordon himself was the obstacle.

    My political analogies are not so much football-related as musical. And in music, too often everybody wants to be the front man. Fine if the band you’re in is The Beatles; you can even get away with the odd Ringo track no problem (I like Ringo btw) as the two front men are equal and opposite. New Labour’s problem was that the two front men were opposite but not equal.

    Tony stole Gordon’s dream. How does one get over that? I don’t think one does and I doubt Gordon ever will. But his inability to do so cost Labour, and by extension the country, dear.

  • Michele

    It would be interesting to know when the decision to publish was made, along with the decision to do so at this particular time, was it the publisher’s wheeze or engineered by the author?

    We can see from some of the dross posted already that damage has indeed been done and some pseudos are proclaiming that all Labour are tarred by the same brush.

    It’s a gift to the Tory right and to ALL uber-sensitive (rightfully so) libdems – hopefully some still loathe what Clegg has done / enabled to be done during his career pretending to be IN Govt (as in being bought by the Tory leader).

    • Liberalreform

      Have a ganders at Ian Dale’s site, he’s ‘explained’ the process and assuming it’s accurate should address your question.

      • Michele

        Thanks awfully but I’d already done my own checking up after that wondering.

  • reaguns

    I had taken Alastair’s side till now, see post below.
    However Alastair has been hounding McPoison on twitter, sending him upwards of 20 tweets and calling him out for refusing to engage, any more than 2 or 3 throwaway tweets back.
    Then: Newsnight asked Alastair to go on and debate McPoison and he refused! What a hypocrite!

    I can only draw the conclusion that worst case scenario, McBride knows where Alastair’s bodies are buried as well as his own and Alastair didn’t want to risk this, or at best Alastair feared McBride would do what he did last night, ie be totally honest, and that Alastair, who cannot give up trying to spin, would look like a liar in comparison.
    So Alastair went one up early doors, but I now call it 2-1 for McBride, after Alastair left him a sitter that even a Burnley forward could put away (got that line off twitter.)

    • Michele

      Aw gawd, more pirouetting πŸ™

      • reaguns

        A poor, guardian comments level argument along the level of “you smell”. Fancy trying to engage with or counter one of my points instead? Didn’t think so.
        I’m sorry to say that I think it was first McBride pirouetting with his book, then Alastair pirouetting on twitter and calling McBride out for not taking him on – then Alastair backed down when given the chance to face him.
        I think AC was just scared of getting a live on air kicking off Iain Dale πŸ™‚

        • Michele

          Aw gawd, more pirouetting.

        • Michele

          JFI and for clarity, I don’t post on the Guardian.

          I did so for a couple of days around a year ago but found it irritating.
          Same thing with HPost.
          Have mentioned here to someone that complained about the delay on posts appearing that I’ve come to appreciate it.

          The trouble with ‘live’ blogs is the silos, the argy bargy exchanges that stay on one page while more relevant or interesting stuff is happening on later ones.

          Then of course there are the trolls elsewhere …. I don’t think such idiots can be bothered here as their MO requires rabid rapid flippancy.
          A couple of years ago I posted for a little while on the DT site — ! There was an East Ender that sounded as if he lived behind boarded-up windows, who didn’t start posting till about 3am and I worried that I was starting to care about the evident pain of such a bigot.
          I’m not sure whether his prejudice was a MH issue but even if so I wasn’t willing to be roped in ….. I’ve felt guilty but perhaps that’s vanity that I’d have been any use anyway.

  • Michele

    EM has been brilliant at Brighton, I hope his potential Cabinet will be more loyal to him than McBride was to his leader and more loyal than EM has shown himself to anyone so far.

    Can’t wait to hear IDS’s pleading to be believed by the Tory audience next week, could he possibly make it sound as revolting as his interview on ‘Today’ last week? He repeatedly blamed the whole IT fiasco on his underlings, is that how he behaved when in the Army?

    The quiet man :-s
    ….. one whose constant going on about ‘rolling it out’ sounded like such a blast from the past I was waiting for a ‘suck it and see’ …… possibly the way he ‘formulated’ his specifications to his poor team (poor as in having him as their inspiration).

  • john problem

    Etonialism, thanks be, doesn’t have any smear masters, spin masters, PR hyperbolics, liars, cheats, frauds, nepotists, expense snafflers, wasters of tax-payers money, daddy’s money, anybody’s money, and is full of honourable, honourable men – men of great intellect and wise experience that will lead the nation into a glorious future for every hard-working British family. Hurrah!

  • Michele

    My last (can’t access it grrrrrr) was posted before I added my main point re YC.

    Being so brilliant πŸ˜‰ (with hindsight) at suggesting what others should have grasped out of thin air, what they should have managed to assume was happening and setting about finding the ‘proof’ of, where was the admission of not doing so herself when all sorts was hitting the fan within Labour?

    Mud splashes.