Having sat patiently on a barrel of digital dynamite for months — the emails from Gordon Brown’s chief spin doctor Damian McBride to Mandelson’s protégé Derek Draper, suggesting Tory smear stories — I light the fuse on Andrew Neil’s BBC Daily Politics show. In an unedifying squabble, I succeed in stitching up the once again infamous Draper on live TV, forcing him to deny that he takes briefings from McBride. Viewers at home may be baffled as to why I am determined to talk about Draper’s relationship with McBride. They may also be bemused by my unflattering Berkeley University T-shirt. The reason for this is to wind up Draper even more: Berkeley featured on his CV, despite him not graduating from that institution. After the show I publicise on my blog a Freedom of Information request for emails between McBride and Draper.
Chris Hope is a Telegraph journalist I have worked with in the past: he took the credit for our investigation into the Smith Institute that resulted in Gordon Brown’s favourite think-tank getting restructured by the Charity Commission. I meet Chris in El Vino’s promising another scoop, Non-Disclosure Agreement in hand. Bloody Mary for me, milky coffee for him. He is stunned. ‘Are they genuine?’ he asks, five times. He makes notes. The Bloody Mary emboldens me. A figure of £20,000 is discussed. On a whim I text Damian McBride, just for the hell of it: ‘So the choice is (a) lie (b) deny (c) email a friend. Too late to press delete and (c) got you in the hole in the first place. Guido.’ Later I call a contact at the News of the World. He seems interested. He calls back. They are very interested. When can I come over to Wapping? I call the Sunday Times — might as well pay them a visit too, if I am going to be in Wapping. They email back the Non-Disclosure Agreement. I send them a descriptive note. They are keen too. A few minutes later my News of the World contact’s boss calls and starts ranting at me — what the hell am I doing negotiating with the Sunday Times as well? So much for the NDA.
The sense grows within me that this is going to be big. I decide to discuss it with my wife, a cautious legal mind with a lot of experience in preventing her husband from charging towards the sound of gunfire. She is extremely alarmed when I explain the situation, insists that I speak with counsel first. I get two opinions. Both agree that I will have a strong public interest defence if the dark forces of Downing Street decide to give me the Damian Green treatment — except if I do it for private gain. Forget making money. Damn. Oh well, this is a noble mission. Partly out of a sense of theatre and partly for the purposes of psychological warfare, I blog a picture of Damian McBride with a sniper’s target on him. My readers are thrilled. We are going big-game hunting again! The lobby pack are mildly curious.
The News of the World can’t believe their luck when I tell them they can have the story for nothing, though they are less impressed when I say ‘and so will the Sunday Times’. My calculation is that the story is best placed in the two largest-circulation Sunday papers because it will be hard for Downing Street to bully or bribe them both. The visit to Wapping on Friday morning is decisive. The News of the World political team makes an instant judgment: McBride is finished. They have no questions as to the authenticity of the material: they recognise the style. They are not worried about upsetting McBride because he won’t be around. The Sunday Times are waiting outside the News of the World’s door. Afterwards, purely out of mischief, I text Damian McBride again with this line from Conan the Barbarian: ‘What is best in life? To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.’ He doesn’t reply. The family people-carrier swings up and I jump in with screaming kids on the way to bulk-buy nappies. My wife is livid when I tell her about taunting McPoison. ‘These are powerful people, you have a family, why are you doing this?’ I think she meant more than just the texting. Cross my fingers that she hasn’t noticed the sniper graphic on the blog.
The Sunday Times text: ‘we are going to go big on this.’ I alert the whistle- blower that the game is on and write a blog naming the mudslingers in the Downing Street bunker. Chris Hope calls. I had almost forgotten about the Telegraph. He says they are not going to buy the story but asks: ‘How old are you, Paul?’ Immediately I remind him of the NDA and warn him against doing a spoiler. ‘Well, it’s just in case Downing Street try to stop you. That cross-hairs picture has got them worried.’ ‘How would you know that?’ The spoiler is out from the Telegraph late on Friday; it doesn’t name McBride but might as well have his byline. Chris has broken his word to me. I call him and abuse him for his treachery in no uncertain terms. A BBC Today show producer calls at midnight — I agree to go on the next morning.
After Today I give the BBC the emails, embargoed until the papers come out. The effect is electrifying. The BBC News operation swings behind the story, momentum builds. The BlackBerry is ringing non-stop. Saturday morning is my daughters’ Easter egg hunt. Two chocolate-loving girls cannot believe their luck. The four-year-old moves fast, harvesting eggs for her basket, the two-year-old finds one egg and stuffs the whole thing in her mouth. Life is good — yet nagging worries remain. I decide to destroy all computer hard drives just in case, and order new ones. Instead of profiting, this is costing. Blog in between doing talking-head stuff for broadcasters. McBride resigns. ‘Mission Accomplished’ is my smug headline. My two-year-old is ecstatic to see her daddy on television. The four-year-old joins me on a phone interview, much to the confusion of the Sky presenter.
Sunday I buy all the papers. Bump into a grim-looking Liam Byrne in a broadcaster’s studio. ‘Hello Liam,’ I beam. He just stares back like an aggressive skinhead. Lunch with our neighbours is strained by endless phone interviews. ITN call when I am on the second bottle of Margaux: could they have a quick response to the news? The first question begins ‘So Mr Draper…’ — they have mixed us up — ‘what is your response to the news of Mr McBride’s resignation?’ I decide to say what Draper should say. I apologise profusely and tell them, ‘I am considering my position.’ They broadcast my impersonation at about 5 p.m. Just the once.
Paul Staines writes the Guido Fawkes blog (www.order-order.com).