Over the past 48 hours, Westminster has witnessed two masterclasses at the extremes of political media management: at one pole, Damian McBride's obsessional, systematic leaking, plotting and general doing-in of Gordon Brown's enemies – while abhorrent – displayed a certain genius that outmatched the worst of Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson. McBride was truly the Grand Master of the Dark Arts.
At the other extreme, we saw how the unprofessional, jokey-blokey sideshow that is Nigel Farage's Ukip turned into a media catastrophe. It is often said that Ukip have a homespun appeal, but this was politics unspun. Nothing crafted about the message, just Godfrey Bloom being Godfrey Bloom. Disaster. Farage is desperate to win seats not just at the European elections next May, but in local councils. His swift suspension of Bloom shows he wants to be taken seriously. Perhaps he should hire McBride as a spin doctor.
McBride's jaw-droppingly confessional memoirs remind me of the scene in The Godfather: Part III (not his favourite of the trilogy, he prefers the purist parts I and II) when Michael Corleone, the head of the mafia family, seeks redemption from a Vatican cardinal for his many sins.
The urge to confess is overwhelming. So, in McBride's book, Power Trip, the Catholic 39-year-old seems to spatter confessions like bullets from a mafioso's sub-machine gun. He wants to gorge on redemption. I am sure McBride will appreciate the Godfather comparison – after all, when he wrote on his blog earlier this year about fighting a coup, he asserted: "If you can't compare politics to the mafia when it comes to an attempt to whack the boss, when can you?" As McBride will remember from Part III, politics is knowing when to pull the trigger.
But hang on a minute: the key difference between this memoir and The Godfather is that McPoison, to give him his affectionate soubriquet, was the hitman; Michael Corleone was the boss.
We have heard claims that Ed Miliband and Ed Balls knew what McBride was up to. But when are we going to hear from the Godfather himself, Gordon Brown, about his role in what happened when his team went to the mattresses (or went to war, for the uninitiated)? Are we really to believe Brown was an innocent? The political play envisioning the moment the former PM comes clean, Gordon Confesses, is showing at a theatre in Brighton to coincide with the Labour Party conference. I imagine it will be a very long time before we hear the truth.
I saw both sides of McBride and what can happen when he is for you and when he is against you. Martin Bright, the former political editor of the New Statesman, revealed yesterday how he was shunted out of his job because he was involved in critical stories about Labour under Brown's premiership. As Bright says, "Nothing short of absolute loyalty would be tolerated."
I know of other journalists (who must remain nameless) who were moved from their jobs because they were seen as Blairites. Was this simply McBride's doing? Balls says he knew nothing of what his mate was up to. We can only take him at his word. What is truly puzzling is why all the effort McBride went to in destroying foes inside Labour was not diverted into fighting the Conservatives and trying to win an election campaign.
Call for the women
Nigel Farage claims that, by 2015, Ukip membership will be the third highest in the country (although if Godfrey Bloom carries on insulting women, I am not sure that's right). But I'm told that the Liberal Democrats are also enjoying something of a grassroots resurgence – after hitting a low, their membership is on the rise. Nick Clegg's party still has its issues with recruiting women and ethnic minorities, particularly as councillors and Westminster candidates – only seven women (including Jo Swinson, below) out of 57 Lib Dem MPs just isn't good enough. I understand that, if more women aren't elected as Lib Dem MPs in 2015, party chiefs will look at copying Labour's all-women shortlists. Personally, I've always been unenthusiastic about all-women shortlists. Female candidates should be selected on merit, from a level playing field. But the Lib Dem problem goes beyond Westminster – many of their senior councillors are also men. It is clear some positive action needs to be taken.
Cameron and the Y-word
When I heard that David Cameron had told The Jewish Chronicle that it was acceptable for Spurs fans to describe themselves as "Yids", I was incredulous. How could the Prime Minister wade into such a sensitive area? He was obviously not aware of David Baddiel's film, The Y-Word, calling for an end to the self-description, given that it triggers opposing fans to launch into chants about Hitler and gas chambers. As a Jewish Chelsea fan, Baddiel is more qualified than Cameron to judge. However, this should not overshadow something important that the PM launched 24 hours before his comments emerged – a new national commission to remember the Holocaust and an extra £300,000 for the Holocaust Educational Trust, which organises school visits to Auschwitz. Cameron will go to the former Nazi death camp next year. I have been there myself, on an HET visit, and it is an unforgettable experience. It is the Prime Minister's commitment to remembering the Holocaust, not his ill-advised comments on football chants, which is important.
The Leek War: Part I
If you have an allotment, as I do, party conference season comes at an inconvenient time – the pumpkins are swelling, the runner beans are running long, and the blackberries will go over unless they're picked. But when I returned from Glasgow last week to check on my harvest, I found that 20 leeks – the only vegetable that will still be going through the winter when everything else has finished – had been ripped from the ground by a thief. It is not the first time my plot – and the whole site – has been targeted. If it was a rough sleeper in need of food, I would have sympathy, but this person has ripped out fruit bushes and entire crops of courgettes, apparently selling them on the black market. When you've been growing leeks from seed since March, it is impossible to replace with shop-bought leeks, and it is quite dispiriting to find them gone overnight. I am planning to go to extraordinary lengths to catch this thief, even if it means hiding in my shed with a night-vision camera. I am going to the mattresses. This time it's personal.Reuse content