UK Politics

Damian McBride reveals smears against Brown's rivals

Damian McBride
Image caption Damian McBride worked for Gordon Brown at the Treasury before moving to Number 10

Gordon Brown's former spin doctor has revealed how he routinely tried to discredit the ex-PM's rivals by leaking stories about them to the press.

In extracts of a memoir published in the Daily Mail, Damian McBride claims he smeared Labour ministers including Charles Clarke and John Reid during Mr Brown's bid to succeed Tony Blair.

He says he was being loyal to Mr Brown, who was unaware of his actions.

But ex-minister Dame Tessa Jowell said Mr McBride's actions had been "vile".

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Media caption Dame Tessa Jowell says she is shocked by the "vile actions" of Damian McBride

And she also criticised the former prime minister, suggesting Mr Brown had been an "agent of this malign and awful" behaviour.

Mr McBride quit in 2009 after he was caught planning to smear Conservatives.

His book, Power Trip, recounts infighting and media manipulation within the Labour Party in the run-up to former Prime Minister Tony Blair stepping down in 2007.

The excerpts are published just days before Labour's annual conference which starts in Brighton on Sunday.

The revelations include claims that Mr McBride:

  • held a "black book" of stories about former Home Secretary Lord Reid, who resigned from the cabinet to avoid damaging newspaper allegations
  • "orchestrated a briefing war" between Charles Clarke and one of Mr Blair's advisers, leading to the ex-home secretary's sacking
  • leaked a damaging story to the News of the World about then Health Minister Ivan Lewis involving a female civil servant in his private office
  • accused shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander of being "cold-blooded" when he insisted sister and fellow Labour politician Wendy Alexander would have to resign over a donation
  • was asked to intervene in the 2010 Labour leadership contest - in which Mr Brown privately backed Ed Miliband over Ed Balls

'Shared secrets'

In his memoir, Mr McBride insists the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Brown, was not aware of attempts to smear his Labour opponents.

He writes: "Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat; ministers, MPs or advisers; if they'd ever shared their secrets with colleagues in Westminster, the chances were that I ended up being told about them, too.

"Drug use; spousal abuse; secret alcoholism; extra-marital affairs. I estimate I did nothing with 95% of the stories I was told.

"But, yes, some of them ended up on the front pages of Sunday newspapers."

'Best press'

Mr McBride says he was motivated by a desire to protect Mr Brown, who went on to succeed Mr Blair.

"I offered him the best press he could hope for, unrivalled intelligence about what was going on in the media and access to parts of the press that no other Labour politician could reach," he says.

"And my attack operations against his Labour rivals and Tory enemies were usually both effective and feared, with me willingly taking all the potential risk and blame."

Image caption Lord Reid was seen as a threat to Gordon Brown's plan to succeed Tony Blair as Labour leader

Tessa Jowell, who served in both the Blair and Brown governments said she was "sad" and "angry" that infighting at the top had overshadowed Labour's achievements in many people's eyes.

She suggested many of the problems stemmed from Mr Brown never "coming to the terms" with the fact that Mr Blair became Labour leader and prime minister before him.

"I would rather remember Gordon Brown's achievements in government and the work he did as chancellor...rather than being an agent of this malign and awful briefing," she told the BBC.

But she insisted Mr Miliband had made clear that such behaviour "was in the past and we are not going back to that".

Meanwhile, emails outlining the efforts of Mr Blair's team to frustrate Mr Brown's campaign have also emerged.

According to the Guardian newspaper, the messages - sent between 21 August and 8 September 2006 - show how figures from Number 10 and Labour avoided declaring when Mr Blair would step down, despite coming under increasing pressure to outline the then PM's future.

The emails - disclosed by former director of strategic communications Ben Wegg-Prosser - include discussions about which MPs might still support Mr Blair, details of media briefings, statements drafted for the prime minister and references to Mr Blair's frustration.

'Blair should go'

Mr Wegg-Prosser says the manner of Mr Blair's departure still "casts a shadow" over Labour.

He says: "The 'coup' of September 2006 was the culmination of 12 years of mutual frustration between the occupants of numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street. The constant ding-dongs served neither man well.

"It is now clear that Team Brown were effectively running a disciplined war-room with battle plans and an agreed sequence of attack. That it should have come to this is profoundly depressing."

Mr McBride resigned as political press officer to Mr Brown after messages he sent from a No 10 website address - containing unfounded claims about Tory MPs - were published by a Westminster blogger.

At the time he apologised for the "inappropriate and juvenile" content of the emails but said had been "sickened" they had been made public.

Asked about the revelations, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said it "showed how riven Labour was by personality politics and factionalism" and suggested Ed Miliband had "not really addressed" the issue.

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