Labour will find it hard to avoid McPoison chalice

Conference season 2008, Damian McBride at the side of then prime''minister Gordon Brown in Manchester. Picture: Toby Melville
Conference season 2008, Damian McBride at the side of then prime''minister Gordon Brown in Manchester. Picture: Toby Melville
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DAMIAN McBride – or “McPoison” as his enemies describe him – will be the name on everybody’s lips at the Labour Party conference in Brighton.

Far less well known than Tony Blair’s spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, McBride has now ensured he occupies a similarly high profile place in the “TB-GBs” melodrama which, six years after Tony Blair quit, and three years after Gordon Brown left Downing Street, still appears to dominate the party’s psychology.

Releasing his first raft of revelations on Friday (which appeared, to Campbell’s fury, in the Daily Mail of all places), McBride explained that he was motivated by a desire to get it all out there.

With withering contempt for his own actions, McBride – who now works for the Catholic Aid Agency CAFOD – has laid bare the sheer nastiness of the media-political nexus he inhabited at Westminster.

Born in 1974, McBride began life as a civil servant before being spotted by Gordon Brown in the Treasury press office. Soon, the then chancellor made him a political appointment and McBride began to weave his dark spell.

He was sacked infamously after it emerged he had been plotting to spread malicious lies about the private lives of opposition figures, including George Osborne.

His memoir, Power Trip, reveals how this was very much in a pattern of behaviour.

Despite insisting that “95 per cent” of the gossip he was told about senior Labour figures remained private, he admits he routinely discredited opponents by feeding newspapers information about “drug use, spousal abuse, alcoholism and extramarital affairs”.

McBride also admits logging in to Brown’s office e-mail and leaking details of restricted or confidential documents with the consistent aim, he writes, to “protect Gordon Brown”.

In 2005, when the then home secretary Charles Clarke was a threat to Brown’s hopes of succeeding Blair, McBride admits manufacturing an apparent briefing war between him and Blair’s anti-social behaviour “czar” Louise Casey. Clarke soon resigned.

And Brown’s most implacable opponent, John Reid, quit the same Cabinet post after details were leaked of his alleged “drinking, fighting and carousing”.

One story published at the time included lurid claims of “drink-fuelled indecent proposals”.

Yesterday, the trail began to get nearer to party leader Ed Miliband, amid claims in the book that he sent “potentially damaging” e-mails to another party official who was plotting to smear opponents.

It prompted former Labour minister Tessa Jowell to declare that she believed Miliband knew about the underhand tactics.

McBride was forced to resign in 2009 when it emerged he sent the same official, Derek Draper, e-mails containing unfounded smears about Tory MPs for an anti-Conservative gossip website called Red Rag.

On Friday, Miliband sought to drown out the potential row by announcing
that, under a Labour government, the controversial bedroom tax will be abolished. And at conference this week, he will seek to project forward to a potential Labour government after a 2015 general election, which polls suggested he will win.

But, like the Conservatives since the fall of Margaret Thatcher, it appears that the trail of Labour party blood-letting left behind by a spell in power is a long one. It means that when Miliband takes to the TV sofa studios today, he can expect to be questioned about little else.