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Damian Mc Bride and the "forces of hell"

Michael Crick | 16:45 UK time, Wednesday, 24 February 2010

My colleague Jake Morris has interviewed Damian McBride at length today about the Alistair Darling "forces of hell" interview and this is McBride's version of events. I think it is worth placing on the public record.

"Alistair Darling has read the allegations in the Andrew Rawnsley book and given that, you can understand why he believes what he seems to, but that doesn't mean it's right.

"When the Decca Aitkenhead interview came out, obviously what the Sunday journalists and broadcasters were trying to get to was: there's a stark contrast between what Alistair Darling was saying and what Gordon Brown had been saying about Britain being well-placed to withstand the recession.

"So there were extensive conversations between the Treasury and Number 10, and at least one conversation between Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling, where it was agreed the key thing was to make clear to the press that the '60 years' thing referred to the world economy and not just Britain, and that the action we were taking was going to protect Britain from the damage we'd seen in previous recessions.

"Because basically the headlines were 'Alistair Darling says: 'Britain faces the worst slump in 60 years'', the Conservatives were leaping on it saying what they were saying about Britain was right, and you had to explain to people that Alistair had been misrepresented in the way the interview had been written up.

"That was a joint effort and that was kind of the agreed objective for the day, from Gordon and Alistair downwards. Everyone, from myself and the PM's spokesman and Alistair Darling's press people, we were all told that is the message for the day.

"There was no 'background briefing' or anything like that. It wouldn't make sense. You couldn't say on the one hand that Alistair had been misrepresented and what he'd actually said was consistent with what Gordon had been saying, but on the other hand, Alistair's made a terrible mistake and what he's said is wrong.

"Of course you end up with quotes in some of those papers from sources saying GB was dismayed with Alistair Darling's interview. That kind of thing happens because if a journalist really wants to, they can always find someone who can be vaguely described as 'close to Gordon Brown' to give them the quote they need, but I don't know if on this occasion it was true.

"But I can categorically state that I didn't brief against Alistair Darling or brief against the interview. You know, I had journalists ringing me up saying "Come on, you must accept this is a disaster - look at the news - it's dreadful for you guys." And all you could keep saying is, of course the news is going to be like that if they're going to misrepresent the interview and say Alistair was talking about Britain, but he wasn't.

"In fact, the only dispute we had with the Treasury that day was when we were under that kind of pressure, and we were saying to them: "You need to put out the transcript of the interview to make clear what he did say and to show that he was quoted out of context."

"The Treasury were very reluctant to say that, and what became clear was that nobody had a transcript of the interview. So the only dispute, which was limited to our sort of junior level - not Alistair and Gordon - was that we were saying to Alistair's people: 'What are you doing? If the chancellor's doing a two day interview with a journalist you need someone there with a tape recorder. That's basic.' And you feel a lot of frustration when you are told we can't put out the transcript because we didn't record the interview.

"There was never an 'angry' reaction to the interview because even before the papers had dropped that Saturday, the Treasury had told us what the headlines were and that Alistair had been misrepresented, so when we saw the interview it wasn't a case of 'Why has he said this stuff?', it was 'He's been stitched up, he's been quoted out of context.''

"The comments Alistair Darling made in the [2008] interview about other people coveting his job were not what was capturing the attention. I'd forgotten about them til you just mentioned them now. What mattered was the headlines on the news, and that's what we were having to deal with it. The other stuff was just by the by, but it kind of added to the atmosphere that this was an explosive interview.

"I remember only a few weeks previously, George Osborne had given an interview to Decca Aitkenhead and she'd completely turned him over. He'd said all kinds of ridiculous things like he was too young to remember the miners strike. I called up the Treasury and said: this is great stuff, you should use this at Treasury questions, and a few weeks later, instead of using that material, they've given an interview to Decca Aitkenhead themselves.

"Anyway, since that weekend of the interview, it's developed into a complete myth that we were out there over that weekend doing loads of briefings, which just wasn't the case. If you look back at the Sunday papers the following day, it's clear it wasn't the case. Now because you have this book out I'm sure Alistair Darling reads what's written there and thinks it must be true.

"You can't blame Alistair Darling for reacting that way.

"But the irony is he reads things about what Maggie Darling is supposed to have said in that book and he says "That's not true", he reads the allegations about Gordon and bullying and he says that's not true, but then he reads the allegations about someone like me, and he assumes it's correct.

"There's a broader point in that he's had some people around him for a while who were quite prone to believe anything journalists told them, or even think that any bad publicity for Alistair must have something to do with No.10, and that's obviously affected Alistair's views.

"This hadn't always been the case but it started when a former journalist came in to work for Alistair, who was inclined to almost expect this was the sort of thing that went on, and assume that every story or column had some briefing behind it.

"So I'd be told by journalists that they'd ring up the Treasury about a story, and the Treasury would get into a flap about where the story had come from and start having a go at me or someone else in No.10, and before you knew it, some simple story had turned into a big row.

"If you do that all the time, sooner or later journalists will just ring you up, flam up some so-called briefing from No.10, and you end up reacting to something that doesn't exist. And that's what started happening with the Treasury.

"I don't particularly feel animated about it in all truth. When I read the Rawnsley stuff at the weekend, there was straight factual stuff in there about me - phone calls I'd made, things I'd said to people - that just weren't true, they hadn't happened, so you start to take everything else with a pinch of salt.

"He didn't speak to me about what he was going to allege about me. There were supposed conversations I'd had written about in the book, and I think to myself that only two people know what happened in that conversation and he didn't speak to me. So how could he rely on one person's account, how can he not check with the other person?

"But then again, I've only got myself to blame that Rawnsley wouldn't bother checking things with me. Because of what happened last April people will say he deserves everything he gets, who cares what he thinks, and they'll believe anything that's written about me.

"I only have myself to blame for that, but if you sit there and read things that are wrong, you still feel a bit aggrieved, and when I get The Sun turning up at my school today and turning up at my mum's house on the back of what Alistair said, of course you're a bit pissed off 'cos you think I've paid a big price for what I did, I'm trying to get on with my life and yet I'm still being accused of things I didn't do.

"I got in touch with Rawnsley on Sunday and said the following things you have written about me are wrong and I know for a fact that the following things you've written about Gordon or other people are wrong too. He said he'd get back to me."


  • Comment number 1.

    Oh yeah, hmm.

    Now who would I trust?

    Mr Gordon Smeargate or a well known and credible Lobby journalist?

    Tricky one, not.

    I can't believe you're even giving this shelf space.

  • Comment number 2.

    Anything McBride says is atinted by his past.
    He has zero credibility so why this long interview saying "it was not me ,Guv".?

    Man who lives his life by lies tends to continue lying...

  • Comment number 3.

    Bully for him!

  • Comment number 4.

    The timing of daring Darling's decision to spill the beans on the alleged bullies is decidedly odd.

    Darling would have gone into the Sky interview knowing full well a Bullygate question was on the cards and could have flanneled around.

    Instead he seems to have unleashed his own 'forces of hell' after all the alleged briefings against him.

    Maybe it's part of a ploy to get his own way over the budget. I can only think he's demob happy. After all isn't revenge a dish best served cold?

  • Comment number 5.

    Why don't I believe this guy's account of the affair?

  • Comment number 6.

    Politicians and political journalists do not appear very much integrity.
    Whose view/opinion can you believe? I think now that it will be safer to simply rely on my own conclusions. For British Justice and Democracy that is unfortunately tragic. Despite all that, the U.K. is still fortunately much better than Zimbabwe.

  • Comment number 7.

    After all this lengthy tale of how unfortunate it is that Mr Darling misunderstood poor Mr McBride, I am left with one little niggling doubt. Which is that other journalists heard him give his briefing in a Soho pub, without asking for anonymity, he was so confident of his position. So, since there are others who corroborate on the record that it was Mr McBride briefing against Mr Darling at the Pillars of Hercules, well, I guess my suspension of disbelief won't function.

  • Comment number 8.

    Clearly GB wanted his "posse" ensconsed in No.10
    Balls for Chancellor, McBride et al as "spin doctors" and his old mate Nick as Chief Whip...what a gang. Are you really trying to tell us this was not a collection capable of strong arm/bully boy tactics?
    A simple review of the track record of them all shows what a despicble band of brothers they are!
    Get them out now, the countries bust, money and bond markets know it...waiting for election result until we get downgrade. Look out Australia!

  • Comment number 9.

    @ Mike Jecks

    “Which is that other journalists heard him give his briefing in a Soho pub, without asking for anonymity, he was so confident of his position.”

    I think you have the wrong end of the stick here – if McBride was indeed busy ‘knifing’ Darling at the time, he would not be doing so “...without asking for anonymity...” – he may be many things, but dumb isn’t one of them.

    For all of his perceived faults and regardless of what one’s personal view of what he does/did for a living, the guy is/was a serious operator in his field and the only reason he would have been holding court in the ‘Pillars of Hercules’ pub (which I think you will find is in Covent Garden rather than Soho) would be that the briefing was legitimate and its purpose was indeed to clarify the Chancellors words and stop them being taken out of context.

    I know it’s much easier to put the boot into people when they are on the floor, but in this instance at least, McBride doesn’t deserve it...

  • Comment number 10.

    The only guy with any integrity in my judgement (having seen all the interviews, twists and evasions) is Andrew Rawnsley. After all, it appears his only motivation it to tell the truth, sell his book and make some bucks. It seems that the whole NuLabour smear, spin and lies operation has finally caught up with them - we have a dysfunctional government under Gordon Brown, obsessed with scoring political points and undermining rivals, rather than competently governing the country. The sooner this wrecking Labour government is booted out the better.

    As for Darling, it is clear he won't be Chancellor any longer in a few weeks time - he obviously loses his job if Labour lose the election and he still loses his job if Labour were to (horror of horrors) win the election (since we know Brown wants to replace him with Balls), so Darling was just getting his retaliation in early, he is demob happy and wants to assert his unsackability and independence prior to what will be his final Budget.

  • Comment number 11.

    If you watch Darling's interview with the BBC after all this happened, the one where he repeats the same government message numerous times to any question he is asked, then it becomes quite clear what went on.

    The BBC are really quite vile and unpleasant with their perpetual propaganda for Nu-Labour and Brown. Their own greed and self-interest so blatantly on show for all to see.

  • Comment number 12.

    Methinks he protests too much.

    Recommended reading "Matilda Who told Lies, and was Burned to Death" by Hilaire Belloc

  • Comment number 13.

    seems everyone forgets a person that points fingers,has 3 fingers of their own pointing back at themselves.we all know politicians jostle for positions to gain power.put this pathetic situation to bed and concentrate on putting GREAT back into the last year ALL politicians have shown complete disregard for the people they are supposed to represent.if whoever wins next election or not forgetting we may have a HUNG Parliament will realise WE the people are watching and observing their every move,or on their heads be it.PEACE N UNITY LEADS TO HARMONY 4 ALL.people power will decide lets get it on

  • Comment number 14.

    Plato, of course the BBC will give this 'shelf space', they'll talk to anyone as long as they can keep an anti Brown story in the public eye!

  • Comment number 15.

    Darling is like a kid out of school....doesn't give a monkey's and knows the big bad man can't get him any more.....

  • Comment number 16.

    I think Crick and his Labour masters are getting rattled !
    But the bias continues !

  • Comment number 17.

    Why on earth are the BBC giving this man the time of day? Pass the sick bag.

  • Comment number 18.

    Not sure which man you are talking about but, if it is Crick, the BBC give him and all the other Labour clones the time of day, because they want to preserve a Labour government and the TV licence fee and their own salaries and perks.
    It is pure self-interest, no principles involved.
    They are worried that , if the Tories get in, they will curb the BBC and, heaven forfend, people like Crick might have to get a job in the real world !


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