23 Sep 2013

Ed Balls: McBride ‘despicable’ spin nothing to do with me

Labour’s shadow chancellor Ed Balls denies having anything to do with the “despicable” negative briefings of the party’s former spin doctor, Damian McBride, despite being close allies at the time.

Gordon Brown‘s former spin doctor has not lost his ability to get things in the headlines, with his revelations dominating the Labour party conference in Brighton and forcing denials from a host of top Labour figures.

Over the weekend, Ed Miliband – also a member of Gordon Brown’s “inner circle” alongside Ed Balls and Damian McBride – said the “reprehensible” spin of Mr McBride was a “thing of the past”.

Now, as the latest instalment of Damian McBride’s Power Trip, serialised in the Daily Mail, accused Ed Miliband of turning against him in an effort to further his own career, it was the shadow chancellor’s turn to distance himself from the “negative, nasty briefings” of the Brown/Blair era of intense rivalry and divisions in the Labour party.

This kind of negative, nasty briefing is wrong. But I think also it’s a thing of the past. Ed Balls

Ed Balls insisted Labour had changed under Mr Miliband’s leadership.

The shadow chancellor told BBC1’s Breakfast: “This kind of negative, nasty briefing is wrong. But I think also it’s a thing of the past. The Blair/Brown era is gone. It is not how Ed Miliband and I are doing things in the Labour party today. There’s been none of it for the last three or four years. Thank goodness for that. We’re in a better place now.”

Asked whether he could categorically state that he was never involved in negative briefing against a government colleague, Mr Balls said: “Yes. That’s not something I’ve ever done, I think it’s the wrong way to do politics.

“Damian McBride has come out and said he did some of those things. It was despicable. It’s the wrong thing to do.”

Asked if he had used Mr McBride’s services to undermine potential rivals in the race to succeed Mr Brown as party leader, Mr Balls said: “If I ever did, it didn’t work very well, did it, because I didn’t become the party leader. No, it’s utter nonsense.

“There’s always going to be people who will in an off-the-record smearing way make allegations, but it’s not true and there’s no evidence for that at all. It’s not something I’ve ever done, it’s not something I will ever do.”

‘I think you’re a liar’

Ed Balls’ comments come as more chapters of Mr McBride’s book were published in the Daily Mail, accusing Mr Miliband of ditching Mr McBride over a false allegation back in 2007, when a decision was made not to call an election despite Gordon Brown’s popularity at the time.

Mr McBride said that the newspapers were “brutal” when the decision not to call an election was announced.

“And while all their articles included my background briefing, they also had some very hard anonymous quotes from ‘insiders’ attacking Douglas [Alexander] and, to a lesser extent, Ed Miliband for changing their minds about the election,” he said.

Mr McBride said he did not know where the quotes came from but denied he was the source.

In an account of his conversation with the future Labour leader, Mr McBride said: “I was angry and still reeling when Ed Miliband phoned. So I started ranting about how ridiculous it was that I was being accused of briefing against people.

“‘You know I wouldn’t brief against you,’ I told him.

“‘I don’t believe you, Damian,’ he said, something in his voice and tone reminding me of Hal the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. ‘I think you’re lying.’

“‘Ed, for God’s sake, don’t say that. I’d never brief against you!’

“‘That’s the trouble, I don’t believe that’s true.’

“Despite being known to bend the truth occasionally, I’ve always hated being wrongly accused. ‘Hey! You can’t say that, Ed,’ I said aggressively. ‘I’m not going to have that.’

“‘I can’t help it – I think you’re a liar.’

“‘If you keep saying that, you know we’re finished. I’m not having that.’

“‘I don’t care, Damian. I think we are finished.’

“The call ended. I was totally stunned. Eight years of working together, four years of real friendship, all destroyed in two minutes – and over something that wasn’t true.”

Mr McBride claimed an unnamed Labour MP later told him he was responsible for the briefing against Mr Alexander and apologised. However, this did not lead to the reconciliation he was hoping for.

“The reality was that Ed didn’t particularly care whether I was guilty or not; I was just a convenient person to blame. Why? Because that created the impression he’d been wronged by someone close to Gordon and Balls. That, in turn, allowed him to get some distance from the sinking ship in No 10, plus some victim status with Labour MPs. And it worked.”