Friday, 20 September 2013

McBride, Labour and it's culture of fear & recrimination..

Ben Brogan's morning briefing..

Good morning. Damian McBride is back, and the Labour party is in a state. The serialisation of his memoirs start in today's Mail, and will be talked about for days. Ben Wegg-Prosser, chanelling his boss Peter Mandelson and the Blairite camp, has handed a stash of his emails to the Guardian as a pre-emptive strike. As a result there is a lot of material out there this morning for Ed Miliband and his colleagues to read. It is sometimes said that Labour suffers from never having put itself through some sort of truth and reconciliation process to resolve the conflicts and abuses of the Blair/Brown era. To judge by Twitter last night, where Labour figures took to whacking each other in reaction to Damian's book, the next few days could turn into a bit of a group confessional.

Your reaction to the McBride book will depend in part on where you stand: for or against? Mad Dog or McPoison (or McPrickface, in BWP's word)? It's a matter of record that I had close links to Damian and wrote in his defence at the time of his self-defenestration. I was one of the journalists who benefited, if that's word, from his operations. Which compromises me of course, but it also gives me a better than average sense of just how reliable his account is. I'll wait until I've read the whole thing before pronouncing in full, but based on the Mail's initial extracts, here's some initial observations:

First, day one hasn't produced a show-stopper of a revelation. The overall impression of fear and loathing at the heart of the Labour party will be horrifying to read for those who weren't aware of quite how bad it was, but even the extraordinary account of the invented Charles Clarke plot is just more of what we knew. Second, it is worth noting his expression of contrition - "I regret the majority of what I did" - and the part his faith plays in that (he reveals that as a Catholic he goes to confession). Read in particular his account of his vindictiveness in his destruction of Ivan Lewis, and how he should have walked away but "to my eternal regret" didn't. It's a terrifying insight into the darkest side of politics, one that will make it all the more difficult for his former colleagues to forgive him. I suspect those who opposed him will find that bit hard to swallow, not least because they will suspect that his regret is insincere. Why? Because he remains devoted to Gordon Brown ("the greatest man I ever met"), though I gather their relations are not what they were, and goes out of his way to exonerate and build up his ally Ed Balls. Third, anyone who reads this book should recall that however much Damian makes out that it was all down to him, and that his 'unspoken' understanding with Mr Brown kept his boss insulated from the truth of what he was up to, the Chancellor then Prime Minister was the driving force behind all the poison and mayhem that marked Labour internal politics for 15 or so years. When he imploded, Damian urged Mr Brown and Mr Balls to cut him off and revile him in order to protect himself. For a man steeped in the classic films, it was a very Hollywood view of loyalty, omerta and then duty of foot-soldiers to sacrifice themselves for the leader. But as we explore these memoirs I for one will not believe that bit. In the end, the Labour party we discover in these pages was Gordon Brown's, not just Damian McBride's.

It's also worth pondering how it will affect the current political dynamic. To the extent that they will be noticed outside Westminster his memoirs will likely serve to deepen the public's sense of disillusionment with politics. Public contempt for the political classes will increase. For Labour they promise to turn an already difficult conference into a headache: the reminder of past feuds, and evidence that they are still being fought, will add to the doubts about Ed Miliband. All of which helps the Tories, who can sit back and watch Labour suffer. 
The most important revelations from McBride's book are:
  • Mr McBride says that the "dark" world of politics encourages "vanity, duplicity, greed, hypocrisy and cruelty". He says "I regret the majority of what I did" and, as a Catholic, now attends confession
  • John Reid quit as Home Secretary after Mr McBride leaked details of his alleged "drinking, fighting and carousing" from a "black book" of stories gathered about Lord Reid
  • Mr McBride fabricated a briefing war between Home Secretary Charles Clarke and Tony Blair’s anti-social behaviour ‘czar’ Louise Casey in 2005, when Mr Clarke was seen as a potential leadership rival to Gordon Brown.
  • Allegations about Ivan Lewis pestering a female aide were leaked as punishment for his criticism of Mr Brown’s tax policies
  • Gordon Brown had 'moles' on the teams of rival ministers
  • Douglas Alexander urged the dismissal of his sister Wendy, the Scottish Labour leader, over a donations controversy. Wendy resigned as leader in 2008 
  • Mr McBride admits to logging in to Mr Brown’s office email to leak details of restricted or confidential documents to discredit opponents
  • Gordon Brown privately backed Ed Miliband - not Ed Balls - in the 2010 Labour leadership election
The Mail's leader raises the question of what the two Eds knew about it all and argues that "New Labour's real legacy is the damage that they inflicted on Britain's political system and civil service".
As if that's not enough, Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, then director of the No 10 strategic communications unit, also releases hundreds of emails of the rearguard by Mr Blair as he tried to stop Mr Brown's takeover of No 10 in the Guardian. Although less damaging than McBride's book, there is still plenty to embarass Labour, including:
  • Wegg-Prosser describing McBride as "Damian McPrickface" in an email to a colleague
  • Jonathan Powell directs staff "to get people to start using the expression blackmail" in referemce to the plotting against Mr Blair, arguing: "We cannot have the party give into the blackmail of a small number of MPs threatening continued instability while calling for stability."
  • In September 2006, Mr Blair reportedly told one of his closest aides, Ruth Turner, "What has been exposed is that some supposedly very clever, but actually rather crude, operation, not some spontaneous uprising of MPs and public."
Mr Wegg-Prosser writes that, "the response from Team Blair to the letter-writing campaign to remove him from office was remarkably naive, co-ordinated through random email chains, conference calls and impromptu meetings." Meanwhile, "Team Brown were effectively running a disciplined war-room with battle plans and an agreed sequence of attack."
Mr Wegg-Prosser calls on Labour to learn the lessons of what went wrong. "There is a fine line between loyalty and factionalism: the former is positive, the latter negative" and "When Labour returns to office, as it could do in less than two years, Ed Miliband will no doubt consider how the errors of the last generation should not be repeated by his." 
What better way to begin your wedding day than with Dave asleep on your bed? That was the fate of Alice Sheffield - Samantha's sister - when she got married a fortnight ago. Note that the red box in the photograph is believed to be the same one Dave left unattended on the 7.44am train from King’s Cross to York on the same day. Emily Sheffield, who took the photo, has posted it on Instagram for the world to see.  
Ukip is not lacking in ambition for 2015: Nigel Farage told Peter Obornethat the party would field a candidate in every single one of the UK's parliamentary constituencies, including Northern Ireland. The Ukip conference - a two-day affair - begins today, with Mr Farage aiming to extend the party's appeal beyond European issues. He will argue that any windfall from fracking should go to a sovereign wealth fund rather than the government. But the mystery over whether Ukip will compete in TV debates in 2015 - indeed, whether there will be any debates at all - continues. As The Times reports, the Conservatives are likely to make excluding Mr Farage a red line for participating in the TV debates. Sky News are also reported to be advocating that Ukip do not take part.
Fraser Nelson examines what the Tories can learn from Ukip's conference: "Multiculturalism and tax-cutting are up for discussion; neither are on the agenda when the Tories gather in Manchester the weekend after next. Ukip seems actually to welcome members, charging £35 for on-the-day ticket purchase. The Tories and Labour are charging up to £520 a ticket for the equivalent". 
You could have been forgiven for forgetting that the Labour conference is about to begin (my, what a coincidence). It comes at a bad time - not only because of revelations about Labour's past, but also with polls increasingly bleak - the latest YouGov figures show Labour down to 35 per cent and a one point lead. Lord Collins yesterday published an interim report on how to reform the relationship with the unions. While Labour will vote on whether to end the unions' ability to automatically affiliate members to the party at a special conference next March, Lord Collins said that more substantive changes could only take place "once the new system is in place". One interesting pre-conference titbit is that Ed Balls has said that Labour would scrap the 'shares for right' scheme, as the FT reports.
The Tory away day  seems to have been a modest success. Everyone was very chillaxed - smart casual was the order of the day - in the delightiful surroundings of the Heythrop Park estate, set in 440 acres of Oxfordshire countryside and built around an 18th-century manor. Around a third of Tory MPs gave the day a miss, but over 200 did attend the day, which culminated in a quiz by Michael Gove. But, as The Times notes, perhaps it was Lynton Crosby's presentation - instructing the party to focus its fire on Ed Miliband - that was most significant. 
Paul Maynard has a new Twitter friend:
@PaulMaynardMP: thanks for the follow Grant. 
In the Telegraph 
Fraser Nelson - Cameron has an inspiring message, so please let us hear it

Best of the rest
Benjamin Wegg-Prosser in the Guardian - The Blair-Brown war cost the Labour party dear
Philip Collins in The Times - Labour’s salvation? The hated Lib Dems
9.30am Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to speak at National Housing Federation's Annual Conference. The ICC, Broad St, Birmingham.

Ukip party conference in London. Nigel Farage will be on the podium from 11:30-12:30. His speech is expected to start at 11:45. Westminster Central Hall.

9.30am Public sector borrowing figures for August are published by the ONS.

1.00pm Ukip launch campaign to get more women into politics. The Old Westminster Library.