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Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Blair Brown legacy

Just as the UKIP Conference was overshadowed by the antics of Godfrey Bloom MEP, the Labour Party are struggling to overcome the legacy of the bitter and sometimes vicious rivalry between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, a legacy that has thrown a pall over their own annual gathering thanks to the timely publication of Damian McBride's book.

On the Telegraph blog, Iain Martin draws out the similarities between the trauma that overcame the Conservatives following the ousting of Margaret Thatcher and that currently besetting Ed Miliband's party:

It is now clear that Labour finds itself in a similarly bleak situation. Rather than fading away, the poisonous legacy from the long-running battle that Gordon Brown and his aides waged to remove Tony Blair remains extremely toxic.

Even though it is six years since the axing of Mr Blair, another three-time general election winner, and three years since Mr Brown was defeated in the 2010 general election, Labour is still struggling to move on from the fights of the past decade.

This weekend, the appearance of the memoirs of Damian McBride, former spin doctor to Gordon Brown, have brought it all — the feuding, the hatred, the childish bickering, the vaulting ambition — flooding back. Indeed, the extracts published so far illustrate the extent to which the party remains defined by its troubled past.

The “two Eds” who feature in Mr McBride’s account are Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, fellow Brown advisers then and leader and shadow chancellor now. They will be absolutely furious that their former friend has produced such an explosive book.

With a dry wit, and a dash of self-criticism, the spin doctor has delivered a devastating portrait of the dysfunction at the heart of New Labour.

Incredibly, considering how much has been written about it before, it turns out that the infighting and double-dealing were actually even worse than suggested at the time. Mr McBride tells of numerous plots and dirty tricks campaigns run against Brown’s ministerial rivals such as John Reid, the former home secretary, and he shows just how bad it got between No 10 and No 11 under Mr Blair and Mr Brown, when the rival camps were dedicated to destroying each other.

Relations became so bad that the chancellor’s press man even ran a campaign to “knife” Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie. He leaked details of an investigation by customs into unpaid VAT and customs duty on pearls she had brought back from China. The intention, writes Mr McBride, was to make her look “simultaneously filthy rich, out of touch and a tax-dodger”.

As a result of the colourful revelations, Labour’s conference in Brighton this week is getting off to a highly entertaining and potentially disastrous start. For Ed Miliband, this book could not have come at a worse time, as he endeavours to relaunch his leadership against a backdrop of a recovering economy and an evaporating opinion poll lead. Just when the party’s high command should be devoted to trying to explain to the country what Mr Miliband would do if he makes it to Downing Street, they are instead dealing with the fallout from the Mr McBride revelations.

What matters of course is how the man and woman in the street view these revelations. Will they shrug their shoulders and instead concentrate on important policy issues and cost-of-living factors when they decide how to vote or will they determine that character is important and decide that they want nothing to do with any party which behaves in this way?

More likely many will view these revelations as confirmation of what they have always thought, that all politicians are deeply devious self-servers and they want nothing to do with any of them.

Whatever the reaction the one thing that is certain is that the media are very interested in who knew what, when and what they did about it and that whatever the messages coming out of Brighton all of the interviews with leading politicians will feature a large section on that particular obsession. It is a spin doctor's nightmare.
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