None of us should ever have heard of Damian McBride. For those of you who have managed to avoid the avalanche of hype about him these past few days, he was Gordon Brown’s spin doctor, infamous for briefing against opponents within his own party, notably Tony Blair.
However, this being party conference season, politicians, their aides and hangers-on all have books to puff. It is curently McBride’s turn. Apparently, he got a six-figure sum from the Daily Mail for the serialisation rights. Good luck to him. Some commentators have noted the apparent ‘sincerity’ of his contrition for use of what is glibly referred to as the ‘dark arts’, but is more honestly called smearing. They were surely being ironic?
We should never have heard of Benjamin Wegg-Prosser either. Wegg-Prosser spun for Blair during the same period. Last weekend, after a “leak”, hundreds of emails were published revealing his work in the Blair camp’s rearguard action to defend their leader against the Brown camp’s putsch and that smearing of loyal ministers to which McBride now readily admits. Among their tactics? To smear Brown as ‘bonkers’.
In recent times, advisers from Lynton Crosby to Charlie Whelan have become the story to an alarming degree, given that none, bar Peter Mandelson, was ever elected. Alastair Campbell is of course the most (in)famous. That is, if you don’t count The Thick Of It’s fictional Malcolm Tucker.
The spin-doctors are not the real story here. However despicable their tactics, they were allegedly doing their jobs. It is the journalists who so often fail(ed) to do theirs. If desperate political journalists and their editors did not lap up the smears with little or no questioning, then spin doctors would be whistling in the wind.
The journalists were/are all too aware of the dirty tricks going on and, by definition, knew / know the source(s) of this disinformation. Because of a mixture of desperation for competitive advantage and the political agendas of proprietors and editors, this simply doesn’t matter enough.
As we have learned via the Leveson Inquiry and Nick Davies’ book Flat Earth News, the root cause of this lies in the cosy complicity that exists between politicians and the media. Both sides can become so giddy via their association with an elite that judgement flies out of the window.
When expedient business relationships are mistaken for personal friendships then both sides are on a mutually destructive march towards becoming compromised. Why? Because you can’t fool the public all the time. Familiarity does indeed breed contempt. The proof lies in the ever increasing cynicism toward politicians and the inexorable decline in most newspaper circulations. They only have themselves to blame.
Stefano Hatfield is editorial director of London Live