Books

Damian McBride & Me: How the Book Came About

28 Mar 2013 at 09:12

Four years ago I appeared on the Today Programme talking about Carol Thatcher and her use of the word ‘gollywog’. She had just been fired from the ‘One Show’ for having the temerity to liken someone’s hair to that of a ‘gollywog’. This is what I wrote on my blog at the time…

Chris Moyles is Radio 1’s star DJ. Two years ago he was involved, on air, in an incident which led to him being accused of racism. Halle Berry, no less, felt that he was indeed being racist. In December 2008 he faced another allegation, after he asserted that “Polish women make good prostitutes”. On neither occasion did the BBC fire him, let alone discipline him or even make him apologise. On both occasions the BBC said he was “poking fun”. Today, despite issuing a full apology, Carol Thatcher was fired by the BBC – not disciplined, but fired – from the One Show, after she likened a tennis player’s hair to that of a golliwog. It was a jokey remark made off air in the Green Room. The logic of the BBC’s argument is that the very mention of the word ‘golliwog’ is considered racist. Utterly preposterous. Whatever Carol Thatcher said off air should not have been made public by the BBC. By firing her in this manner and allowing all this to enter the public domain, they have branded her a racist when she is patently nothing of the sort. When dealing with the BBC, having the surname of Thatcher is not an advantage. However, if you are a fat, loudmouthed git with a surname of Moyles (or Ross, or Brand) you can get away with anything.

At the time, I was one of the country’s three star bloggers, alongside Guido Fawkes and Tim Montgomerie. Deep inside Downing Street, plans were being hatched to help Derek Draper launch a blog to take on the three of us. The Left had been scratching their heads as to why people on the right dominated the blogosphere. What happened next would have massive consequences for him, his blog and a certain Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s spin doctor in Number 10. Later that day Draper (who I knew and had advised on how to launch his new site, LabourList) saw an opportunity. He effectively called me a racist for going on the Today Programme and trying to explain why a 55 year old woman might use the word without meaning it to be pejorative. This is what he wrote on the fledgling Labour List…

Ashcroft sock puppet Iain Dale has defended Carol Thatcher and the use of the word “Golliwog”. See, even the nice seeming ones are nasty underneath. On the Today programme he said Adrian Chiles must hear much worse every week. No, Iain, he doesn’t. Because he doesn’t make a habit of hanging out with racist Tories. Until Dale thinks again we are suspending his listing on our blogroll. Come on Iain, do the decent thing and admit you got this wrong.

I reacted in my usually calm and measured manner…

As my readers can imagine, I am truly bovvered. Inconsolable. Bereft. My blog won’t be able to survive without the thirty visitors LabourList has sent its way. Believe me, it’s his site which loses out if I don’t link to it, not t’other way around. And with fewer than a thousand visitors a day, he needs all the links he can get. There’s just one thing that Derek might have to explain. Just where, exactly, have I ever said that the use of the word ‘golliwog’ is acceptable. Not here, and not on the Today Programme. I have indeed tried to explain why the BBC is guilty of hypocrisy and has overreacted, but that is not the same as saying the word is nowadays ‘acceptable’.

And so it went on. I was bloody furious. Someone I had helped get his blog off the ground, and knew reasonably well, had smeared me as condoning racism. I shouldn’t have been surprised by these tactics, but I was. Scroll forward two months, to April 2009, when Guido Fawkes rang me up to tell me that Derek Draper had been acting under orders from Number 10, and Gordon Brown’s chief henchman, Damian McBride. Again, I found it difficult to believe, but Guido said he had the emails to back up the claims and would be publishing them. Wow.

Here’s what I wrote on March 27th2009…

On the Daily Politics yesterday, Guido Fawkes made an allegation that McBride had given Derek Draper his marching orders on how to trash my reputation as a blogger, and in particular how he should smear me over the Carol Thatcher golliwog remarks. This wasn’t the first time I had heard the allegation made. I intend now to submit an FOI on this subject as I regard it as a hugely serious breach of McBride’s role as a civil servant – paid for by the taxpayer, if indeed it is true. Several people have warned me off doing this. “Let it lie,” they say. One lobby correspondent advised me: “Don’t get on the wrong side of McBride”. I’m afraid they ‘misunderestimate’ me. But I will say this. I hope Guido’s allegations are wrong and that Damian McBride can truthfully tell me that he gave no such advice to Draper either by email or verbally. But if these emails do exist, they will come to light through an FOI request. Someone else said to me that they will just delete the emails, if they exist. I reminded that person that to do so would constitute a criminal offence. It’s the kind of thing a certain Richard Nixon got into rather a lot of trouble for.

UPDATE: Guido has submitted an FOI request. In the absence of a reply from DM, I have followed suit…

Dear Damian,
This is a Subject Access Request made under the provisions of the Data Protection Act (1998).
Please provide me with copies of all emails, letters or other documents referring to either myself or my publication, “Iain Dale’s Diary”. In particular, but not exclusively, the analysis provided by you to Derek Draper and LabourList.org on the afternoon of Friday 13, February 2009.
I have copied this to the Cabinet Office Freedom of Information Unit. If you require payment of a fee please advise by return.
I should remind you that it would be a criminal offence to destroy the information requested. Please confirm receipt of this email.
Kind regards

On 11 April the whole scandal broke when Guido revealed the contents of emails between McBride and Draper. A day later, I wrote a column for the Daily Telegraph on the subject (read it HERE). This is how it ended…

When you’re a leader in trouble you turn to those whose undying loyalty you know you can count on. That’s why Brown was reluctant to let McBride go last September after he had been found briefing against Ruth Kelly. Instead of firing him, he moved him sideways and out of direct contact with the media. But at the same time he brought back his old ally Charlie Whelan.

Whelan is now political officer for the giant Unite union, and he funds Draper’s website. It was he who persuaded Geoffrey Robinson, the co-proprietor of the New Statesman, to dispense with the services of the magazine’s award-winning political editor Martin Bright, who was considered not onside with Brown. Whelan was also copied in on McBride’s emails to Draper as he had agreed to fund the new Red Rag blog which was to play host to the smears about Tory politicians. I suspect there is far more about to emerge about Whelan’s pivotal role at the heart of the Brown empire. If Gordon Brown really wants to bring about a new era at Downing Street, he can do several things – take away Alastair Campbell’s pass which gives him free access to the building; reshuffle Tom Watson out of Number Ten; but most significantly of all, tell Derek Draper his services as editor of LabourList are no longer required. The trouble is, our Prime Minister is wedded to the notion that seeking political conflict and dividing lines is the be all and end all. And he’s incapable of changing.

So McBride had had to quit, not just over these allegations, but also relating to similar ones against Tory MPs, including Nadine Dorries.

Eighteen months later, out of the blue I got an email from Damian apologising for what had happened. That sparked an exchange in which we both buried the hatchet. Then last year we met up for a coffee. Damian had been out of the political world for three years and was working happily for CAFOD. We met in a Costa Coffee near Waterloo. I had heard on the grapevine that Damian was planning to write a book, and I was determined to publish it. We talked it through, what kind of book it would be etc and the ramifications. We both laughed about the irony of me publishing it after all that had happened. He wasn’t totally sure about doing it but to cut a long story short we have continued discussions over the last year and today I have announced that Biteback has signed up the book and we will be publishing it at the end of September. Judging by the reaction to what Damian writes on his superb blog, it will be a corker.

Here’s the official announcement…

Biteback Publishing today announces the publication in September of Power Trip: A Decade of Policy, Plots and Spin, by former government special adviser Damian McBride. It is a book which will send shivers down the back of the Labour establishment as it reveals the truth about life within Gordon Brown’s government. World rights were acquired for a five figure advance in a highly competitive bid.

From 1999-2009, Damian McBride worked at the heart of the Treasury and No10, becoming one of the most controversial political figures of the last decade, before a notorious scandal propelled him onto the front pages and out of Downing Street. In Power Trip, he writes candidly about his experiences at the heart of government, and provides the first genuine insider’s account of Gordon Brown’s time as Chancellor and Prime Minister. He reveals the personal feuds, political plots, and media manipulation which lay at New Labour’s core, and provides a fascinating, funny, and at times shocking account of how government really works. His own journey from naive civil servant to disgraced spin-doctor is also laid bare, with brutal honesty. Power Trip is a riveting memoir and an eye-opening expose of politics in Britain. It is also an intensely personal, and sometimes emotional book. How do you cope with one day being at the centre of power and the next day cast aside, on your own?

Iain Dale, Managing Director of Biteback says: "I have absolute confidence in predicting Damian’s book will be seen as the political memoir of the year. I’ve been chasing this book for at least eighteen months and am delighted to have persuaded Damian to put pen to paper. It confirms Biteback as the ‘go-to’ publisher for political books. Everyone knows from his blog that Damian is a brilliantly incisive writer and that he was in a unique position to expose what being at the centre of power in the Brown government was really like.

Damian McBride comments: “Given that Iain Dale was one of my supposed enemies when I was working in Downing Street, he was the last person I expected to be working with, but his thoughts on what this book should be about exactly matched my own, and I am delighted to be publishing it with him. I hope that, like my blog, this book will be a chance not only to give my account of what happened during Gordon Brown’s time in office, but also to give an insight into what life is like for those working in government today.”

Power Trip: A Decade of Policy, Plots and Spin will be published on 23 September in hardback. Price: £20.00

Royalties from sales of the book will be split between Damian McBride’s current employers, CAFOD (the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development), and the appeal by his former employers, Finchley Catholic High School, to build a new sixth form centre.

You can preorder a signed copy HERE

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