What I’m supposed to say here is that Damian McBride, former spin doctor and general hellhound to Gordon Brown, is a nasty piece of work. A bully, a thug, a scumbag. But I don’t think those judgments, however accurate they may or may not be – and I have never met Mr McBride, though I know plenty of people who are terrified of him – have much bearing on the task ahead, which is to tell you whether or not to buy his book.
The answer to that question, for those lacking forbearance, is unequivocally yes. Over the past few weeks, the political classes have been scandalised and delighted by McBride’s book, which lifts the lid on his time as a political adviser to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. It is something of a dark pleasure.
Much of what McBride says will be deeply shocking to the politically uninitiated, and to Americans. But in my experience the levels of drink, the acrimony, the bitching and the backstabbing are not so different regardless of the administration in power. It took a Labour man to write so frankly about it all, though.
Power Trip: A decade of Policy, Plots and Spin by Damian McBride
£16 from Amazon
“A decade of policy, plots and spin” promises Power Trip‘s subtitle. Well, it certainly delivers on that. You may be of the view that Gordon Brown’s administration was a dark period in British politics, but touching passages that deal with love and loyalty, interspersed with anecdotes of astonishing cruelty, finally explain why so many at the heart of it were, and are, so passionate that its history should be written correctly.
McBride does not come across as likeable, to put it mildly. Of course, the only way he could have written this book was to acknowledge that, and, to some degree, to atone for it. Nor, it must be said, do Ed Balls or Brown himself, despite McBride’s lavish praise for the funny, kind private side of the former Prime Minister.
You would be forgiven for thinking that our country was, during their tenure, being run by lunatics. McBride does not shy away from mentioning Gordon Brown’s Olympian temper tantrums, nor from details of his deeply weird personal tics. He does, however, convincingly contrast the competence of Brown against the lightweight frivolity of David Cameron and George Osborne.
Every third page boasts score-settling, name-calling, desperate recollections of appalling alcoholism. In other words, it’s a bloody good yarn. But one thing the Telegraph‘s Iain Martin pointed out, perhaps even better than the juicy revelations on every page, is how brilliantly written it is as well. And it’s not often you can say that about political memoirs.
For those of us in the media, of course, the pleasure of scanning the index for friends, colleagues and former lovers was worth the cover price alone. But even for those in other countries, or not particularly interested in the inside baseball world of politics, this is probably the most enjoyable book you can read about that chapter of Britain’s political history.
Come to think of it, it’s probably the most enjoyable book I’ve read all year.