As disingenuous statements go, Damian McBride's assertion that he didn't want the revelatory account of his time as a government spin doctor to distract attention from the serious matters being discussed at the Labour conference is quite something. It's up there with “I sold the book to the Daily Mail because I've always admired their journalism, and I knew they wouldn't sensationalise anything I wrote about”. Or indeed Ed Balls trying to make us believe that he had not a clue about the shocking acts of political skulduggery that were taking place around him.
On the day a survey conducted by a parliamentary committee reports that trust in politics has fallen by more than 20 per cent over the past five years, it is hard to know which aspect of McBridegate (it's only a matter of time!) is the most reprehensible: the book itself, or the protestations of innocence that have attended it.
The one thing that must be acknowleged about the book is that it is well written. McBride has a gift for evoking the absurdities of high politics, and he has a neat turn of phrase. His account of how people emerged from long exposure to Gordon Brown - “often, after Gordon made a car journey, you'd see staff members step out of the vehicle with him, carrying the blank look of a US soldier released from a Vietnamese prison camp...relieved the ordeal was over but unsure whether life could ever feel the same again” - will have struck a chord with those who had regular dealings with him.
But McBride didn't set out to win a literary prize. In fact, it's safe to assume that he didn't have a noble purpose at all. Did he want to shine a light on the corruption that exists in the interface between politics and the media? Did he want to expose the dark arts practised by those in power? Was he on a mission to strip away the carapace from our political leaders? No, not really. The main reason he spent many hours in front of his computer was to earn a few quid. And the more salacious and controversial he could make this tome, the more he was going to make from it.
I would hazard a guess that, even as he was crafting a wounding metaphorical flourish, he had one eye on how it would look across pages 22 and 23 of the Daily Mail. Nothing wrong with that. We all have to pay the bills, and Mr McBride is nothing if not a pragmatist, knowing there was a ready market for his brand of scuttlebuck. But there must be something morally, or Karmically, dubious in seeking to monetise one's own experiences, or in making capital off what other people have said to you in unguarded moments, or in using proximity to power as a means of self-aggrandisement.
The diary is a legitimate literary form, and our understanding of history has been helped by the recollections of the the rich, the famous, the powerful. But the eavesdropper? The bit player? The wing man? The proliferation of memoirs such as McBride's, entertaining though they may be, does little but to weaken further public faith in the political process.