Can Ed Miliband sidestep Damian McBride's river of slime?
An unwelcome reminder of what Labour can be like when they forget the voters and turn on themselves
CAN Ed Miliband keep clear of the torrent of toxic slime emanating from the Daily Mail's serialisation of Damian McBride's memoirs? He needs to. He's preparing for a crucial Labour conference speech next week and this is a distraction he could have done without, to say the least.
The McBride memoirs make ugly reading. He was Gordon Brown's spin doctor - some might say enforcer - in the years when Brown was hugely frustrated at playing second fiddle to Tony Blair and was desperate to stop any other Labour heavyweight beating him to the premiership.
McBride admits to having spread stories in the newspapers of "drug use, spousal abuse, alcoholism and extra-marital affairs" in a bid to smear those seen as Brown's rivals, in particular Charles Clarke and John Reid.
While there's nothing in the memoirs to implicate Ed Miliband in the smear campaigns, the Mail's serialisation threatens to damage him in two ways: they show that Ed was Brown's preferred heir to Brown; and they suggest that there are still scores being settled in the bitter Brownite/Blairite civil war that split the Miliband brothers.
Above all, McBride's poisonous revelations will remind the voters of just how ghastly Labour in power can be when they forget the voters and turn on themselves.
McBride describes how he systematically used spin and leaks against both Charles Clarke and John Reid.
Regarding the latter, McBride says he "decided to unearth from my black book some of the stories I'd gathered over the years about Reid's escapades from the Eighties and early Nineties" including "drinking fighting and carousing".
As for Clarke, McBride briefed newspapers against the then Home Secretary in 2005 by orchestrating "what looked like a briefing war between Charles and Tony Blair's anti-social behaviour guru, Louise Casey".
Casey did not suspect McBride was behind the stories and told him that there were tears in Blair's eyes when he sacked Clarke - "a bit of colour I obviously then briefed to the papers," says McBride.
McBride, who resigned in 2009 when his attempts to smear Tory politicians were exposed, says he did all this "to protect Gordon Brown… I did it out of devotion, out of loyalty and out of some degree of love for the greatest man I ever met".
McBride also makes it clear that Ed Miliband was Brown's chosen successor. He recalls how Brown and his accolytes intervened in 2010 when Ed Balls was rumoured to be plotting to stop Ed Miliband from winning the leadership by doing a deal with his Blairite brother, David. McBride says it came to nothing, "but did very clearly expose where Gordon had his colours nailed".
Brown, says McBride, was determined to stop David becoming leader because he would "take the party down routes he had resisted for more than a decade - creeping privatisataion of public services, closer integration with Europe."
McBride hasn't just created an unwelcome distraction for Ed Miliband with this memoir, he's also taken the chance of a sideswipe at Ed Miliband's politics and his speaking style, saying "It's hard to listen to any of Ed Miliband's occasionally tortured, over-academic speeches without hearing his father's (Ralph, a Marxist academic) voice."
The onus is now on Ed to deliver a powerful conference speech that sends delegates and journalists home with a clear Labour message in the run-up to 2015 and leave McBride to wallow in his own bile.
As Polly Toynbee, the veteran Guardian columnist, said on Radio 4's Today programme this morning, McBride's final act of malice was that he had "sold himself to the Daily Mail", which had "gleefully" splashed on the story under the headline: 'Revealed: poison at the heart Labour'.
It was not all new, she said, but she admitted: "It's pretty devastating stuff."
Alastair Campbell, tweeting this morning, reminds us that he turned down News International's big-money offer for his memoirs and is intrigued to know - as will other Labour insiders - what McBride took from the Mail?
Given all that's emerged since am pleased said no to £1m plus from NewsInt for diaries. How much is @DPMcBride saying yes to from the Mail?
— Alastair Campbell (@campbellclaret) September 19, 2011