Power play by McBride a sore spot for Labour
Fear and loathing, if it ever left, has returned to the heart of Labour
Labour Leader Ed Miliband and shadow chancellor Ed Balls at the second day of the Labour Party Annual Conference in Brighton. Photograph: Chris Ison/PA
Surrounded by photographers, Damian McBride scuttled into a hotel in Brighton yesterday to promote his memoirs from his time at the heart of New Labour.
In truth, he will not be doing much promoting at Labour’s conference in the Sussex city, since party chiefs have denied him a pass to the Grand and Metropole hotels.
However, he is still close enough to cause damage. His memoir, Power Trip, which is being serialised by the Daily Mail for fee upwards of £100,000, has reopened wounds in the party that never healed.
Once, in his own words, a vicious party briefer who destroyed careers, McBride, then a Gordon Brown loyalist, claims that he has repented of his sins.
Yesterday, he sought to turn fire onto Labour leader Ed Miliband, also a Brown loyalist during the Blair years, claiming that Miliband had turned against him when it suited his ambitions.
Senior Labour figures have sought to put blue water between themselves and McBride, most especially shadow chancellor Ed Balls, the closest of all of Gordon Brown’s team in the late 1990s.
Questioned yesterday, Balls declared his innocence of stab-in-the-back briefings saying: “Yes. That’s not something I’ve ever done, I think it’s the wrong way to do politics”.
“Damian McBride has come out and said he did some of those things. It was despicable. It’s the wrong thing to do,” he said, adding that briefings against senior Labour people does not happen today.
However, Balls’ reaction, though he could not do much else, has provoked guffaws amongst Westminster political journalists, even if most fed happily on McBride’s bilious diet for years.
McBride claims that Miliband severed connections with him after Gordon Brown dithered about calling a general election in 2007 at the height of his short-lived popularity.
Having finally abandoned the plan, his reputation was thrashed by Fleet Street, though Mr Miliband and Douglas Alexander – now the shadow foreign secretary – were quickly blamed for the blunder.
Miliband blamed McBride for being targeted, leading to a difficult telephone conversation between the two where McBride said he pleaded that he was not to blame.
“I can’t help it – I think you’re a liar,” Miliband told him, McBride records. He replied: “If you keep saying that, you know we’re finished. I’m not having that.” According to McBride, Miliband responded: “I don’t care, Damian. I think we are finished”. McBride says the call ended; “I was totally stunned. Eight years of working together, four years of real friendship, all destroyed,” he writes.
Now, however, he insists that Miliband exploited the briefings: “The reality was that Ed didn’t particularly care whether I was guilty or not; I was just a convenient person to blame.” Why? “Because that created the impression he’d been wronged by someone close to Gordon and Balls. That, in turn, allowed him to get some distance from the sinking ship in No 10,” he said.
Tony Blair’s spin-doctor, Alistair Campbell said the noxious atmosphere that marked so much of New Labour’s years had helped remove it from power. “One of the reasons we don’t have a Labour government is because of the behaviour of people like this when we were in government,” Campbell declared, rewriting some of his own history as he went.
“A narrative was fed to the public ... that Tony Blair wasn’t very good at this job,” said Campbell, who was known for his own hard-hitting style.
Despite condemning McBride now, newspapers like the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror were happy “to take McBride’s message” every day of the week, he said.
Such disunity, he claimed, had been fatal: “That’s the stuff that matters – and they are partly responsible for the Conservatives now being in power, and us being out of power.”