Did Ed Miliband know what Gordon Brown’s spin doctor Damian McBride was up to?

Serialisation of memoir, which reveals smears against rivals, raises awkward questions for Labour leader

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Ed Miliband is under pressure tonight to come clean over how much he knew about the smear campaigns and dark arts of media manipulation practised by Gordon Brown’s former spin doctor Damian McBride.

Preparations for the Labour conference, which starts on Sunday, were thrown into disarray by the first batch of extracts from Mr McBride’s memoirs.

He admitted plotting to bring down Mr Brown’s rivals to succeed Tony Blair in Downing Street by briefing against them to journalists and placing false stories about them in the media.

He spelt out details of dirty tricks campaigns against Charles Clarke and John Reid, who were both briefly seen as potential Labour leaders.

The disclosures – reviving memories of the damaging infighting between Blairites and Brownites during the last government – were highly discomforting for Mr Miliband and Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, as they were both close allies of the former Chancellor and Prime Minister.

The revelations also left a fresh question-mark over Mr Brown’s judgement in failing to rein in Mr McBride.

A former Cabinet Minister, Dame Tessa Jowell, said she was certain the Labour leader had been aware of the disgraced spin doctor’s tactics.

Condemning the “awful, evil influence of people like Damian McBride”, she said: “I don't think it’s damaging for Ed Miliband. I’m sure he knew that this was going on. He was actually away a lot of the time.

"But the strength of Ed Miliband has been to say that ‘that is the past, we are not going back to that and that I am not going to preside over a parliamentary party or a Labour party that allows this kind of bad and malign behaviour’.”

Mr McBride also claimed he became part of a briefing war between Mr Miliband and Mr Balls as they vied for the Labour crown in 2010.

Mr Miliband kept a low profile yesterday, but a Labour source insisted: “It’s a matter of public record that he expressed his concern about what Damian was up to, he complained to Gordon.”

One former Blair aide claimed last night that Mr Brown could have broken the ministerial code by failing to control his spokesman.

The aide said: “Under the ministerial code, all ministers are held responsible for the behaviour of their special advisers.

“Gordon should not be allowed to duck responsibility. He benefited from the dirty tricks, he appears to have allowed Damian McBride to behave with standards and morals that were below anybody else’s.”

Mr McBride was forced to resign from Downing Street in 2009 after his involvement in a scheme to smear senior Conservatives was exposed.

In his book Power Trip, the former spin-doctor says he routinely tipped off newspapers about “drug use, spousal abuse, alcoholism and extra-marital affairs”.

He explains he acted “out of loyalty and devotion” for Mr Brown and added that there was “something unspoken” between them.

Mr McBride recounts how how he sought to kill off Mr Reid’s leadership chances by leaking details of alleged “drinking, fighting and carousing” by the ardent Blairite.

He undermined Mr Clarke’s prospects by fabricating “what looked like a briefing war” between him and Louise Casey, who was at Mr Blair’s adviser on anti-social behaviour.

He also leaked allegations that another minister, Ivan Lewis, who had criticised Mr Brown’s tax policy, had pestered a female aide.

None of the former ministers targeted by Mr McBride commented on his disclosures.

Mr McBride also claimed that Douglas Alexander, the shadow Foreign Secretary, had betrayed his sister, Wendy, by advising Mr Brown she would have to stand down over a row about donations.

Mr Alexander said today: “He was discredited when he left Downing Street and that's really all there is to say. I always supported my sister and I never supported Damian McBride. That might explain why he writes about me in those terms.”

The Conservative MP Henry Smith said: “After the revelations from Tessa Jowell, Ed Miliband must now tell us what he knew about McBride's Labour smear campaigns.”

The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said the book showed that Labour was "riven" by factionalism.

"I think the challenge for Ed Miliband, strangely enough, is that he hasn't really ever had to address that, but I think it's brewing there," he told LBC 97.3.