“To Gordon, the greatest man I ever met,” runs the dedication in Damian McBride’s newly published memoir Power Trip. Yet his description of working alongside Gordon Brown reads like the memoirs of an animal trainer. He describes in some detail the right and wrong ways to negotiate the volcanic moods of the brooding Prime Minister, who shrugged off good news and overreacted to every trivial setback. Riding in the back of a car during a trip to India, McBride had to tell his boss that a comment he made was being interpreted as meaning that he would support England against Scotland if the two teams met in the World Cup.
It was never going to happen, so did anyone care? Yes, Brown cared so much he lifted the enormous pile of papers that were on his lap and hurled it back down, so that “it whacked off the top of the passenger seat in front of him, almost taking the head off the armed Indian bodyguard sat there… Gordon simultaneously let fly a blood-curdling ‘Fu-uck’.”
While the book reinforces all we suspected about Brown’s moodiness and obsessiveness, it acquits him of the allegation that he bullied junior staff. “As enraged and frustrated as Gordon regularly was, he was never violent, bullying or abusive to this staff,” McBride writes.
Ups and downs with Ed
Ed Miliband makes his first appearance quite early in the book. David Miliband, then one of Tony Blair’s advisers, had sent his brother, who was working for Brown, a note saying curtly: “VAT and museums: get this sorted.” McBride was the young Treasury official who got it sorted. When the younger Miliband heard the news “he told his entire office that I was a genius, and kept shouting the phrase ‘You’re a genius! You’re a genius!’ at me as I walked away down the corridor”. Eight years later, the future Labour leader had arrived at a different conclusion, as he ended their working relationship: “I think you’re lying,” he said in despair. “I can’t help it, I think you’re a liar.”
Another ‘friend’ called Ed
McBride is most complimentary about Ed Balls, more so than the shadow Chancellor might like. In 2006, McBride began a romance with a fellow civil servant, Balshan Izzet, which continued for a time after the first bout of revelations forced him out of public life. His friendship with Balls also survived, temporarily. “Despite the severe flak he’d taken over his association with me, Ed Balls would always grab the phone when I was talking to Balshan to ask how I was and what I was up to,” he writes gratefully. This sits uncomfortably with Balls’ claim that he had no idea what McBride got up to in Downing Street.
Hounded TV interview
Stuart Holmes is an eccentric, homeless pensioner who turns up at political occasions to protest about nuclear power. He has been doing it since 1984. During the general election, he leapt on stage when Gordon Brown was speaking.
He arrived in Brighton, spotted McBride being interviewed live on the seafront by Daybreak television, and positioned himself in shot, until he was seized by a “big guy” who tried to drag him out of sight. Both men were soon sprawled on the pavement. This annoyed Mr Holmes’s dog, Stuart, who bit his master.
What Mr Holmes did not know – until I told him – was that his assailant was Iain Dale, a well-known blogger turned broadcaster. Years ago, when stewards at a Labour conference ejected an elderly man named Walter Wolfgang for barracking the speaker, Mr Dale wrote eloquently in condemnation of Labour “control freaks”.
But now he appears to be something of a control freak himself. “I was determined this idiot shouldn’t disrupt what was an important interview for my author,” Mr Dale declared.
Mr Holmes commented: “Mr McBride saw me and didn’t seem to mind. I didn’t make any noise – until I was assaulted.”