Irish blood, New Labour henchman heart: dark arts under Gordon Brown
As a Labour spin doctor, Damian McBride regarded as fair game every weakness in his boss’s opponents
Former Labour spin doctor Damian McBride is fitted with a microphone for a television interview on Brighton’s seafront during the Labour Party’s annual conference in the town last week. Photograph: Chris Ison/PA Wire
Sitting in a London hotel, Damian McBride has just returned from the British Labour Party’s annual conference in Brighton, one dominated in part by Power Trip, his recently published memoir about his time working as a special adviser to Gordon Brown when the latter was chancellor of the exchequer and prime minister.
McBride had been the story previously. In 2009 he quit Brown’s side after it emerged that he had planned to establish a “dirty tricks” website to blacken political enemies’ names.
Everything was fair game then: the sexual orientation of opponents, their marital troubles and their weaknesses. McBride, who peppered Power Trip with expressions of self- loathing, professes to be contrite. Despite admitting many sins in Brown’s service, however, he bristles at what he perceives to be unfair charges.
“I have always taken umbrage at being blamed for things I hadn’t done,” he says.
Former Labour foreign secretary David Miliband “has always thought that I was responsible for a story that he couldn’t father children,” says Bride. “I wasn’t.”
During his years in the treasury and 10 Downing Street, McBride was corrupted by politics, he says, but not because of Brown.
“It is a business that can corrupt people that are corruptible. I don’t mean that in a financial sense, but people get sucked into the lifestyle.
“It is a lifestyle without many boundaries: there’s alcohol and power. I found that the longer I was in the worse my behaviour became.”
Born to Irish parents in north London, McBride joined the British civil service’s “fast stream” in the 1990s having acquired in Cambridge a good degree and a reputation for drunken fights. Background checks on his father, who came from Gweedore in Donegal, “had kicked up some concerns”, he says, recalling a recruitment interview. “‘Would you describe your father as an Irish nationalist?’ ‘What about his family?’ ‘How often do you travel to Donegal?’ ‘Do you meet your cousins there? ‘Have any of your cousins ever spoken to you about Irish nationalism?’
“I knew what specifically she was driving at. Rather than have it crushed out of me, I told her up front exactly what I knew about my dad’s cousin who had served time for IRA-related offences,” he says.
The security agency MI5 later sought to recruit him, he believes, sending him a letter “with no heading, address, or signatory”, a 20-page questionnaire and an invitation to a country retreat.
Despite an instruction not to speak to anyone, he “checked with a friend at the foreign office, who confirmed that the letter sounded like it was from the secret services”.
“Given the Canary Wharf bomb had recently gone off, he concluded that ‘It’s probably because they need more Paddies’,” before admonishing McBride for talking about it.
“Paying that no heed, I headed down to London that night for a friend’s birthday and I took along the questionnaire to show my mates,” he wrote. In the pub he boasted “that I was going to be the next James Bond, or – after I’d had a few pints of Guinness – the next David Neligan [who spied in Dublin for Michael Collins].