Until today, the most famous Roman Catholic with a penchant for knifing people to roam the streets of Brighton was Pinkie, the fictional protagonist of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. But with Damian McBride’s arrival at the seaside to haunt the Labour Party conference in person (if only from the outside since he hasn’t got a pass), there was a new contender.
Security was tight. A BBC car (he was in town to film for Newsnight) drove several times past a Travelodge before reversing into a back entrance, where a shutter lifted to reveal Gordon Brown’s former spin doctor in a checked open-necked shirt. McBride climbed in to the back and the car drove off. This tantalising glimpse of the man whose memoirs have been serialised under Daily Mail headlines large enough to announce the outbreak of World War III was about all there was, until his TV appearance last night.
So where was he all day? We called. We texted. We asked his predecessor Charlie Whelan, whose fearsome reputation when Brown was at the Treasury has been put in the shade by the politically homicidal exploits of his successor. Nothing. Perhaps, we heard later, he was “filming on the beach”. We pounded between the knots of sunbathers on the long pebble strand stretching east to a pier not that much changed since Greene’s day, save for the Brighton Wheel. Again, nothing. Yet if the security was there to prevent attacks by enraged delegates, it may not have been necessary.
Even Paul Kenny, the GMB leader (and no great friend of Ed Miliband), reportedly told a trade union liaison meeting that he doubted McBride’s memoirs would have much impact on the party at large because few had heard of him. The paradox had been that while the memoirs had played big in the media-political complex, the one place they weren’t on everyone’s lips was inside the Labour conference.
That was until last night, at any rate, when McBride acknowledged on Newsnight that “many people in the Labour movement think I’m a traitor for publishing a book lifting the lid on some of that feuding”. He then added: “I believe if Labour is going to avoid repeating its mistakes it’s got to learn from the past, exorcise its demons, and make sure that when it says those days are over, it means it.”
McBride’s reference to accusations of treachery may – at least in part – have reflected an exchange on Twitter with an acerbic Alastair Campbell. “When you say ‘royalties’ going to charity,” Blair’s spin chief tweeted, “does that include the advance from [publisher] @IainDale and the serial white collar crime?”, and: “You really are odious. Go and buy a drink for your best pal [Paul] Dacre [the Daily Mail editor, who reportedly paid £100,000 for the rights to the memoir].”
“Mad Dog” did confirm (via Twitter) Ed Miliband’s assertion that the Labour leader had asked Brown to fire his spinner. Not only does it seem to be true, but to suggest otherwise on the eve of Miliband’s speech today would have been a knifing too far, even in Greene’s violent Brighton.