Damian McBride: How I lied to save Gordon Brown’s job as Chancellor

Spin doctor’s book tells of gut-wrenching instant he realised that the 2005 Budget had been blown

Gordon Brown almost resigned as Chancellor when he was photographed with documents revealing market-sensitive figures ahead of the 2005 Budget, his former spin-doctor claimed today.

Damian McBride said he managed to stop them being published - and potentially saved his boss's job - by falsely suggesting they were calculations about the Tory opposition's economic plans.

Mr McBride's disclosure came in his memoirs detailing years of using the black arts of media manipulation, briefing against ministers and leaking sensitive documents in his determination to bolster Mr Brown's position.

His book Power Trip, which was published today, has proved an unwelcome distraction for leading Labour figures dogged by questions at their party's conference about in-fighting in the last government.

Mr McBride recalled that Mr Brown “screwed up in a way that almost cost him his job” on the eve of his Budget in March 2005.

He was alerted to the mistake when a newspaper reporter emailed a photograph of Mr Brown in Downing Street holding papers that included a set of numbers in black marker pen. The journalist asked whether they were Budget-related and suggested one row could be the borrowing figures about to be announced by Mr Brown.

Mr McBride writes: “With false bravado, I told him I sincerely doubted it, but I'd ring back once I'd looked, then waited with a knot in my stomach at the printer for the photo to emerge. I could have been sick when I saw it.

”There were the borrowing figures, the growth forecasts, net debt, unemployment … Every key market-sensitive number in the Budget.“

Mr McBride said he interrupted a meeting at which Mr Brown was rehearsing his Budget speech with Ed Miliband and Ed Balls and others to show them the picture.

”The only sound in the room was gulping. Gordon looked up and said quietly: 'I'm going to have to resign. Hugh Dalton did nothing compared to this', a reference to the Labour Chancellor who'd been forced to quit for telling a journalist a minor but market-sensitive secret on his way to deliver the 1947 Budget.

“'I'm serious, I'm going to have to resign,' Gordon said, with genuine shock and distress, before coming back to his normal self and remembering there might be someone else to blame. 'Blair!' he roared. 'Blair made me give him the figures. Why did I ever agree? Why has he done this to me?”

A Treasury official who was hurriedly summoned said they were not the “exact borrowing figures” about to be published, but were “pretty bloody close”.

Mr McBride said Mr Balls then told him: “Well, it's your call.”

“There was no instruction to mislead the paper; I'd been given the facts, now it was up to me to decide how to use them. I called the reporter back and did my finest lying-without-lying.”

Mr McBride said had checked and could confirm they were not the borrowing figures. He speculated they could be the latest calculations of “the Tory black hole on public spending” and suggested the paper ran a story suggesting the opposition's figures did not add up.

“I knew that mentioning the mythical Tory black hole was the single easiest way to make a journalist's heart sink, but it was entirely plausible that Gordon would have obsessively worked it out…Plus, the fact I was actively encouraging him to use the photo would have allayed any suspicion it was a problem for us.”

After the reporter told him the picture would not be used, he passed on the news and got “a thumbs-ups and cheers from everyone except Gordon, who just looked back down at his speech and said gruffly: 'Where were we?'”

Mr McBride said: “He'd gone from having to resign 30 minutes previously to acting as though I'd caused an unnecessary interruption.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event
filmBut why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride