August catch-up: What Damian McBride said about Ed Miliband

A former special adviser criticises a fellow former special adviser for combining the worst traits of their two former bosses — rather unfairly, says our political columnist


The catch-up service has now caught up with the new paperback edition of Power Trip, by Damian McBride, which was published while I was away. It contains three new chapters, from which the Daily Mail published extracts on 29 July.

Gordon Brown’s former media handler has a striking view of Ed Miliband:

“He has managed to blend the worst of Tony Blair’s ‘me against the world’ isolation with the worst of Gordon Brown’s ‘they’re out to get me paranoia’, and yet at least Tony and Gordon both had the pressures of government to blame. If Ed’s determined to prove that he really can do everything himself, and thereby win the right to govern as he pleases, then it’s an admirable effort, but thoroughly doomed.”

As Mili-E-sceptic as I am, I think McBride is striving too hard for effect. Combining the worst of Blair and the worst of Brown is a good line but it doesn’t ring true.

Indeed, McBride tries to soften the criticism by resorting to that device of the coward through the ages, blaming the leader’s advisers. How unexpected that a former special adviser should say that the problem with his former fellow special adviser is, now that he is leader, that he isn’t taking advice from the right people:

“Ed must start involving, consulting and using the whole of his team — not just his small circle of like-minded advisers and trusted shadow ministers [who could, coincidentally, be the same person, namely Stewart Wood, Shadow Cabinet member without portfolio], but all of his Shadow Cabinet [that is, Ed Balls], all his most talented backbenchers [Ed Balls’s mates], and all of the variously talented staff employed by the Labour Party, 99 per cent of whom could currently be forgiven for asking themselves: ‘Should we all go home?’ [That is, everyone except Spencer Livermore, Ed M’s friend and election supremo, who is not a friend of Ed B’s.]”

In a chapter about the phone hacking scandal, held out of the hardback original because of the trial of Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, McBride says his instinct was to stay out of the war against Rupert Murdoch’s company:

“When Ed Miliband himself took up the campaign, I was genuinely in despair. I thought it was the epitome of his naivety about the power of the press and the best way of influencing them.”

Two pages later, he reverses sharply:

“With Ed Miliband, taking up the hacking campaign at the time he did may just have been good politics, but deciding to gun for the most powerful person in Britain [Brooks] as part of that campaign was born of sheer courage and principle. When … Rebekah was forced to resign, I could pay Ed no higher compliment than saying I was utterly wrong about the whole thing and his judgement was totally right.”

There is also a new section on the economy. Recalling that chap who used to walk up and down Oxford Street with “The End Is Nigh” boards, McBride thinks the 2008 banking crisis will be followed by an even bigger crash. In the past, he says, crashes have been caused by the overvaluation of tulip bulbs or internet companies:

“What’s different this time is that rather than one thing in one region being overvalued, it is every major asset in every major country. Everything.”

This is accompanied by some strange touches of world history:

“If you take the view, as I do, that the First World War was at least in part a pre-emptive strike by the ruling classes in Russia, Germany, Britain and France against the rising revolutionary mood among their peoples …”

I know it’s a good idea to keep the mind open to unorthodox opinion, but McBride patently doesn’t believe his own “end times” prophecy. When he returns to the subject of normal politics and Ed Miliband there is a terrible clashing of gears:

“But even if the risks of conflict, revolution and mass social disorder are somehow averted throughout the world, I believe politics as we know it in Britain will change for ever.”

He ends up trying to have it both ways:

“For all my deep-seated fears about the global economy and the consequences of the impending crash[,] I remain the most relentlessly optimistic man in the world.”

McBride can write, certainly. His account of his continuing adventures after the publication of the first edition of Power Trip is entertaining, including the story of his seafront interview at the last Labour conference, pictured above — the one when Iain Dale, his publisher, wrestled a protester who was trying to get his placard in shot. And McBride’s honesty about his past misdeeds is disarming. But you do wonder about the judgement of someone who thinks that “everything” in the world is “overvalued”.

Photograph: Getty

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