By a Newsnet reporter
A former Labour Cabinet Minister has claimed that Gordon Brown sanctioned a campaign of smear and innuendo in order to undermine his political opponents.
Dame Tessa Jowell has described the former Prime Minister and Labour party leader of “being an agent of this malign and awful briefing”.
Ms Jowell, who was a former Government Minister, was responding to revelations today from Mr Brown’s former aide Damian McBride, who has admitted to running a smear campaign against other politicians in order to further the interests of Mr Brown.
Although Mr McBride insists that Gordon Brown was unaware of his activities, Ms Jowell claims that the former Prime Minister permitted a culture of briefings against party colleagues.
Ms Jowell said: “I think at the centre was the battle for supremacy of Gordon Brown in relation to Tony Blair. Tony Blair was the prime minister and at some level Gordon Brown could never, ever come to terms with the fact that he was not, at that time prime minister.”
However even after achieving the position of Labour leader and Prime Minister, Labour’s culture of smear and “malign briefings” continued to flourish.
In his book, Power Trip, McBride revealed how he briefed the press in order to sabotage John Reid’s leadership ambitions.
To ensure that the former Home Secretary did not stand against Mr Brown when Tony Blair resigned as PM, McBride claims that he revealed details to the press of Mr Reid’s alleged drinking, fighting, and inappropriate sexual advances towards female MPs.
Mr McBride claimed that he had “a little black book” full of details of Mr Reid’s private escapades during the 80s and 90s. Although most of the details remain private, one story was leaked based around a “drink fuelled indecent proposal”. While drinking in a bar in the Commons, McBride claims that Mr Reid allegedly turned to one of Mr Brown’s closest allies, Dawn Primarolo MP, saying: “I want sex with you.”
Mr McBride’s memoirs reflect poorly on all prominent Labour figures during the Brown era – with the noticeable exceptions of Ed Balls – McBride’s close ally – and Mr Brown himself. The former spin doctor paints a picture of Labour politicians whose only concerns are jockeying for position and preferment in order to further their own careers.
Alistair Darling, now leader of the anti-independence campaign, is described as “clueless” and self-obsessed. Mr McBride wrote:
“Alistair Darling was completely clueless. All he really cared about was his own image.”
Mr McBride also revealed that Paisley MP Douglas Alexander advised Mr Brown to sack his sister Wendy Alexander, then Labour’s Holyrood leader, following a controversy over an illegal donation to her campaign for leadership of Labour’s Holyrood group.
However the real reason for the sacking was that Ms Alexander had caused the Labour government embarrassment with her call to Alex Salmond to “bring it on” and hold an early independence referendum, which ran contrary to Mr Brown’s policy.
Mr McBride wrote:
“Dispassionately he told the Prime Minister that his sister had to quit in order to avoid further damage. However, Douglas warned Gordon she’d need to make it clear that the reason was to do with the donation – and nothing to do with the referendum.
“If I was sometimes cold-blooded about how I did my job, I had nothing on Douglas that day.”
Mr Alexander claimed today that he had always supported his sister, telling the Herald newspaper: “I always supported my sister and I never supported Damian McBride. That might explain why he writes about me in those terms.”
Mr Alexander added:
“The style and approach of the politics that Damian McBride embodied has been completely discredited and thankfully the Labour party has moved on. I support Ed Miliband’s efforts to remove that type of politics from our party.”
Despite Mr Alexander’s statement, the revelations will prove deeply uncomfortable for Ed Miliband and shadow chancellor Ed Balls, raising questions about what they knew about Mr McBride’s activities. Both Mr Miliband and Mr Balls were senior figures in Mr Brown’s team at the time. Mr Balls in particular is known to have been closely allied to Mr McBride.
Speaking to the Independent newspaper on Friday, a former Blair aide claimed Gordon Brown may have broken the ministerial code by apparently turning a blind eye to Mr McBride’s campaign of smears and dirty tricks.
The aide said: “Under the ministerial code, all ministers are held responsible for the behaviour of their special advisers.
“Gordon should not be allowed to duck responsibility. He benefited from the dirty tricks, he appears to have allowed Damian McBride to behave with standards and morals that were below anybody else’s.”
Commenting on the revelations, which have shaken Labour to the core on the eve of the party conference, SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson said:
“The repeated leaks and heavy spin revealed by Mr McBride underline how riven with division the Labour Party is. It also tells us about the dirty tricks carried out day in day out at Westminster.
“I am stunned at these astonishing revelations about the internal nastiness within the Labour party.
“The party has clearly been divided for years, with warring factions more interested in generating a smear campaign against each other than doing what is best for the country and the people they represent.
“Mr McBride’s memoirs will have made any current fractions even worse – and heaped embarrassment on his former colleagues Ed Miliband and Ed Balls at the same time.
“The email revelations during the time Brown was attempting to oust Blair, show the nastier side of politics played by the Labour Party.
“While Labour plan for even more bitter infighting that will inevitably follow these revelations, the SNP will continue to do what’s best for the people of Scotland.
“With these latest revelations of political life at Westminster, it is no wonder people trust the Scottish Government rather than Westminster to make the best decisions for Scotland by a factor of nearly four-to-one.”
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