Guido Fawkes to Damian McBride: Who's spinning now?

The blogger, once accused by the ex-Labour adviser of the 'dark arts', reviews Power Trip

5 October 2013

9:00 AM

5 October 2013

9:00 AM

Power Trip Damian McBride

Biteback, pp.320, £20, ISBN: 9781849545969

When Gordon Brown eventually became aware that his Downing Street was about to be engulfed in the Smeargate scandal, he called Damian McBride to try to get to the bottom of the story. The latter recounts the conversation verbatim in Power Trip, his tell-all book dedicated ‘to Gordon, the greatest man I ever met’. Brown says: ‘OK, Damian, I need your word that you will tell me the truth. If the years we’ve worked together mean anything, I need your absolute word.’ ‘Yep, of course,’ McBride replies solemnly, ‘I give you my word, I promise I’ll tell the truth.’ ‘Right,’ says Brown, ‘firstly, is there anyone else in No. 10 or in the government or in the Labour party who is involved in these emails or this website? Anyone with any involvement at any level?’ ‘No. Absolutely, definitely not,’ swears McBride, before saying vaguely that there was one meeting with party people where the idea of starting a website was mentioned. That meeting was with Ray Collins, the then general secretary of the Labour party, at the party paymaster Unite’s Westminster HQ where they were trying to get funding support for the planned website. So, in reality, the true answer was ‘Yes.’

McBride’s recurring theme is that his method was to deploy ‘lying without lying’, and here is a prime example of that. The prime minister he serves, the man he tells us he admires more than any other, pleads with him for the truth and McBride reassures him in absolute terms before adding a disingenuous qualifier which means the opposite. Those of us who have not spent a decade plotting and spinning can see this for what it must surely be — a lie.

Westminster insiders and political reporters have gleefully digested the well-told tales in this long-awaited book. Much that was suspected has been confirmed and will not surprise the lobby reporters who dealt with the author on a daily basis. McBride had two masters, Gordon Brown and the lobby, and he tried to please them both, with considerable success. In his defence, he claims that much of the supposed internecine warfare waged in the Sunday papers was a result of his trading with political editors a juicier story to displace a negative one about Brown. His traducing of so many Labour ministers was, by this reasoning, nobly to protect his master.

Similar sophistry is employed to deflect the oft-made claim by Blairites such as Alastair Campbell that while they were trying to spin positively for the government McBride was continually undermining them to further the Brownite faction. Like the competition between Coke and Pepsi, this Blairite v. Brownite narrative played out for years in the newspapers, supposedly, according to McBride, helping New Labour to dominate the political market in much the same way the colas’ marketing helps them dominate beverage consumption. Self-serving arguments like this underlie the confessional anecdotes throughout the memoir.

McBride is a graduate of Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he was tutored by the great Conservative historian Maurice Cowling, who taught that politics was not a noble battle of ideas but a low game where players were motivated by self-interest. But the subtlety of Cowling’s thinking seems to have been lost on his student, who seems only to have absorbed the idea that power should be pursued by any means necessary. The decade of malpractice undertaken by McBride is of a pattern, when ‘lying without lying’ helped him evade being rusticated from Peterhouse, and later to survive an investigation by Special Branch after one leak that was particularly damaging to Tony Blair.

That he had to employ ‘lying without lying’ at the very end of his career, with a Gordon Brown pleading with him to be truthful, suggests that the only person taken in by this was himself. The college authorities, Special Branch investigators and Brown himself all suspected that he was lying, although they could not prove it.

It cost McBride his career, the woman he loved, his friends and his reputation. His post-resignation months in the wilderness, drying out after he left Downing Street and before he was employed as business liaison officer by his old school, gave him time to reflect, and he seems genuinely to regret some of the terrible things he did to innocent people. But lying is lying, even when the words are deployed legalistically. His new-found self-awareness does not extend to accepting this sober truth about himself.

Those buying this book hoping for the whole truth about McBride’s decade working under Gordon and with the two Eds will be disappointed. Ed Balls in particular is spared any critical scrutiny; McBride repeatedly protests Balls’s innocence — something many of us in the Westminster village who observed those days find surprising.

On a personal note, as McBride’s nemesis, allow me to correct at least one of his claims. He spins that I was ‘playing with a stacked deck’, running ‘a mysterious dark-arts operation’ against him. The truth is that when Derek Draper tried to portray Iain Dale (now McBride’s publisher) and myself as racists, it pricked the conscience of a fair-minded Labour party source. I got a phone call out of the blue telling me that there were emails that could prove that Downing Street, in the form of the PM’s press adviser himself, was behind those smears. Ironically, McBride’s confession in Power Trip that he would — in breach of the Official Secrets Act — surreptitiously log in to Brown’s secure government email system and retrieve information to repackage and leak to the lobby, means that, of the two of us, he is the one likely to be in trouble for email hacking.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Guido Fawkes is a political blogger.

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Show comments
  • frank bower

    Don’t buy this book, unless you enjoy the feeling of helplessness that ensues from reading anecdotal drivel which is indistinguishable from truth or lie. Let the commentators read it for you and, hopefully, supply the well hidden but ascertainable facts or fictions of this “work”.

    Of course we believe Damien, when he assures us that some of the proceeds will go to good causes. Why would we not? I’m sure we can trust in his personal selection of such worthy causes.

    But then we could just reactivate our subscription to the NSPCC , RSPCA or other donation seeking organisations. Perhaps a donation to the Labour party to help them overcome the loss of trust they have suffered?

    • george

      labour party and trust? … shurely mutually exclusive concepts!

  • Penfold

    As the left have always said, the aims justifies the means.

    And FB, CAFOD have stated they won’t be taking royalty payments, they at least, are displaying some ethical and moral values.

  • Doctor Mick

    Think I’ll wait for the DVD to come out.

  • Kered Ybretsae

    Waiting till it’s in paperback.

    • Quentin Vole

      Waiting till it’s in charity shops (about 3 weeks, I should think).

      • Kered Ybretsae


  • george

    write mcbride balls millliband and broon into the next series of the game of thrones and we’ll see if we can tell the difference between the backstabbing, murderous, ruthless nutters intent on hanging onto power at all costs … and the characters created by George RR Martin.

  • AdemAljo


  • Billylad

    I still reckon Campbell is the most talented, cunning, dishonest, scheming form of manipulative scum ever to infest the corridors of power. He makes McBride seem almost human. I recall the elderly father of a dear friend watching Bliar on the box. “That man’s evil in human form,” the old codger said. For him, that was strong language. He didn’t know it was Campbell that supported, honed and directed that evil. The fact that this slimy pair are not in the dock for mass murder is one of the defining legal atrocities of the early 21st century.

  • llanystumdwy

    Brown himself is no stranger to lying as we saw when he told the nation during 2009 that he had no intention of replacing the then Chancellor Alistair Darling with Balls, for Balls himself said recently that Brown told him that he was going to get the job. Brown backed down when Darling got wind of this from McBrides briefings and said he would not accept any other job. I can think of many other ocassions when Brown told the nation fibs – the worst of all being wben he said the UK economy was in good health in 2007 when he desperate to become PM. Within months of him becoming PM we had the banking collapse and economic disaster. Yet, when Alistair Darling tried to tell the nation the truth, he was briefed by Browns bully boys who found the truth inconvenient for thier master.