Fraser Nelson

What McBride tells us about Brown

What McBride tells us about Brown
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I woke up to a text message this morning from a friend in Whitehall. “I see Mc**** is in the doodoo”. An expletive preceded by “Mc” can only refer to one person – and indeed, as James and Pete have blogged, Damian McBride is back in the news with his redoubtable emails. I said a couple of years ago that McBride should be banned from electronic communication. Email is as proving as good for McBride’s career as it was for Oliver North’s. Here are two other things that strike me about the affair.

1. Brown’s Black Arts Strategy. His skill lies is attack, not persuasion. He bullied and plotted his way into No10. No one outside Fife has ever cast a vote for him: he has become PM by destroying potential rivals. This strategy is what led him to assemble perhaps the most lethal attack operation ever seen in Whitehall. But weirdly, he always restricted his attacks to his Cabinet colleagues (hence the affection for McBride in Whitehall). When the Brown attack machine turns to the Tories, things don’t go so well. It seems to be programmed for red-on-red attacks: the red-on-blue efforts seem to misfire (eg, Crewe).

2. McBride is too effective for Brown to axe. I hold no brief for McBride, having had my share of colourful emails (which, to be fair to him, made for great copy) but to put all this in context we must remember: he is very good at his job. Those Whitehall advisers are right to loathe (and fear) him so much: he has a hit rate unsurpassed by any other special adviser. His occasional but spectacular slips mask what has been, broadly, a very successful career not just in character assassination but in building a working relationship with newspapers and journalists not normally supportive of Brown. 

His demotion to the backroom of No10 was never going to mean his demise. He is pretty irreplaceable: to Brown, at least. It’s hard to imagine a more energetic and committed praetorian. It’s not blind loyalty: he wouldn’t die for Brown, but he’d certainly kill for him – and Brown certainly wants these Bullingdon boys whacked (to borrow Godfather argot).  But he's going after the Tories with too much energy: he's slipping up. As Corleone said, never hate your enemies. It clouds your judgment.


Now that No10 is describing McBride’s emails as “juvenile” (which Guido, who has seen the emails, regards as a spin operation to play down a more sinister plot and sap the strength of whatever the Sundays have) it seems he may have to be demoted again. But McBride has the contacts, the imagination and the killer instinct that Brown values. It won’t matter what his official title says - even if he’s sent to sell hot dogs on Westminster bridge, he’ll be a key part of Brown’s shadow team come the election. And will that team play be dirty? Of course. It’s the only way Brown knows how to fight. 

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.

Topics in this articlePolitics