McBride back to attack a Labour leader? Old habits die hard

29th July, 2014 11:51 am

Stop the presses: the paperback edition of Damian McBride’s aptly named memoir Power Trip has been published. And if there’s one thing the Labour Party didn’t need nine months before an election, it was more McBride – and the accompanying extensive extract in the Daily Mail.

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When the book was originally released, it was pushed as McBride trying to atone for his sins, without asking for forgiveness. However, it soon became clear that it was more a “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea minima culpa” than a cleansing confessional. If we can be grateful for anything, then, it is that for the new edition they seem to have done away with the tactic of presenting the former Labour spin doctor as a reformed figure.

The Mail piece today has been covered today in almost every other paper – and here on LabourList. Why? Because McBride is back to doing what he does best: causing problems for a Labour leader. Old habits die hard.

Labour’s policies are a “great, steaming pile of fudge”. The Party has “no clear idea who its target audience is”. Miliband’s leadership is “totally dysfunctional” and he’s managed to “blend the worst” qualities of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

And on and on.

Of course, the Mail have chosen the most damaging part of the new chapters to run. In other parts, McBride praises Miliband, says Labour can win next year and raises has some fairly legitimate concerns about the possibility of a future economic crash.

Yet it’s hard to feel for him. Whatever fair concerns he raises, he has not earned the right to be listened to. Not only have his publishers sold the rights to one of the most virulently anti-Labour papers, it’s impossible to get around the fact that the damaging pull-out quotes I use above are hardly out-of-context, and they’re certainly not out of character. The entire section is a damning attack on how poorly Labour are doing, and McBride always knows exactly who he’s trying to damage. As Stephen Bush put it this morning: “as ever with Mr McBride’s public interventions, one gets the unmistakable sense of him sitting in a darkened room somewhere, gently scratching names off an enemies’ list.”

It was only two weeks ago that McBride saw fit to slag off Harriet Harman (and let us all bask in the irony of him attacking someone else for lacking decency). Last week, he was settling old scores with Douglas Alexander (£). Let’s not pretend he’s trying to be helpful.

It is telling that “McPoison”, the nickname he earned while working as spinner for Gordon Brown, was not what Tories called him. It’s what Labour colleagues called him. This is a man who managed to play a major part in terminally destabilising two Labour prime ministers. One purposefully, and one through sheer incompetence.

From what I’ve seen of Damian McBride – through his book, his blogs, his interviews – I get the impression he was never very good at his job. Or, to be fair, he was only good at half of it. Need to lay waste to someone who stands in your way? Damian’s your man. Need to do something positive? Er, best find someone else.

Here is a man with no constructive faculty. He can spot a fault a mile off, and exploit it with terrifying precision. But he seems to have no idea what is helpful advice, and that’s a fairly big clunking flaw for someone who’s job was media relations. Just look at what he suggests Miliband and Balls do over the next year: they need to come up with policies that are both “populist” and “pass the FT test”. Not exactly cutting political insight.

Let’s not kid ourselves that McBride has something to offer. Please, stop the presses.

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