Friday, 27 September 2013

A Review of ‘Power Trip’ by Damian McBride

I have been off Politics for quite a while lately but I really couldn’t resist getting hold of a copy of this new revelatory book by Gordon Brown’s ex-personal spin-doctor and chief skullduggerer Damian McBride. To my surprise I was able to buy a copy on iTunes on Monday evening – before it was supposedly released on Tuesday to coincide with Ed Miliband’s big speech. I guess that shows how keen I was and the book didn’t disappoint.

McBride was famously responsible for the nasty habit of briefing against politicians in his own party (Labour) and for fabricating various unpleasant stories and placing them in the media to discredit Gordon Brown’s opponents and others. Ultimately, McBride’s dirty tricks ended in his sacking in 2009 when a series of incriminating emails from him were exposed.

Damian’s book is a real page-turner. He doesn’t waste time telling us about his childhood but barrels straight into the story building a very clear picture of exactly what it was like working behind-the-scenes first at the Treasury and then at No 10 for Gordon Brown.

In the days leading up to the launch of the book, in various media appearances on Newsnight and other places, Damian’s response to the question that everyone was asking, about Gordon Brown’s knowledge of what he was up to at the time was that Brown had not known about his ‘dirty tricks’.

In his book, McBride explains exactly how his method for ‘Lying Without Actually Lying’ worked.

If you read this book and watched any of those interviews there maybe moments during which you recollect what he said that you feel like involuntarily shouting the word ‘snap!’

As Damian said in various interviews, whilst using the patent-pending McBride ‘Lying without Actually Lying’ Method, Gordy probably didn’t know the specifics of all of Damian’s ‘dirty tricks’.

However, with the use of this book, a modicum of common-sense and just seven brain cells you too would have to conclude that Gordon understood exactly the approach that McBride was adopting on his behalf.

All in all, this simply confirms what many of us suspected about Brown’s approach to Politics and the book goes on to confirm other stories of Gordon Brown’s moodiness, bad tempers, repeated habit of blaming others for his own failings and general boorishness.

Yet despite recounting all this, Damian repeatedly says how much he admired Brown. In fact, in one interview with LBC’s Nick Ferrari he confessed to actually loving Gordy although I gather not in a fumbly, sexy way. I think it was more like Nelson and Hardy but with a different tragic ending.
And that very apparent contradiction leads me to a conclusion of what I think actually drove McBride to do the things he did. He didn’t do it because he, as he sometimes seems to suggest, actually really, at the root of things, admired Brown for his absolute greatness - he didn’t.

Instead he was initially in thrall to Brown’s position because of the desire to do a really good job for someone who he had only ever known as being very important.  He first met Gordon when he was Chancellor, wanted to do the best job possible and wasn’t limited by any of the sort of moral and ethical boundaries you might hope would exist. He then smothered his conscience by telling himself it was devotion to Gordon and his brilliance and thus the end justified the means – something he continually wrestled with until the end.

So for me the answer to the big, ‘neatly avoided without appearing to avoid’ (think I might patent that myself!) question of who was responsible for Damian’s approach and activities is simple – Gordon Brown and of course, as he admits, Damian himself.

Damian’s book is brilliantly written. I would strongly recommend it to anyone even slightly interested in Politics as a real insight into how things actually work.

There were two revelations that I found particularly intriguing:

When recounting the period of ‘The Election that Never Was’ when Gordy, despite riding high in the polls, failed to call an election in late 2007, Damian reveals that one of the headline policies for the planned General Election campaign was the scrapping of tuition fees.

As Ed Miliband and Ed Balls were Gordon’s closest political allies at the time, I wonder now if this will be one of their headline policy announcements in the run-up to the 2015 GE?

The other revelation was that Damian seems to suggest that out there, somewhere is some incriminating evidence that Ed Miliband was directly involved in some dirty tricks in the form of some emails.

Is someone keeping their powder dry until 2015?

Incidentally, there is a particular moment in his interview with Paxman on Newsnight on this Monday 23rd (around 17.5 minutes in – available on iPlayer! here) when McBride is being asked by Paxman if he still ‘speaks’ to senior people in the Labour party.

Damian momentarily blanches until Paxman helpfully goes on to ask him when he last ‘saw’ Ed Balls - rather than pursuing the original question. Damian then describes his last physical meeting some time ago. He then asks him about Miliband and again McBride is able to answer that he hasn’t seem him for a long time.

My bet is that the answer to the original question, which Paxman mysteriously fumbled (perhaps he thinks McBride has something on him!), would have given a very different impression. But then I have read the book and have an insight into the McBride methods.

You should read it too.


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