In 2001 or so, I wrote a speech for Iain Duncan Smith that went well enough, and was drafted on the back of it into his team for Prime Minister's Questions prep. The other three members were David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson (and I should say in passing that those first two were infinitely better at the task than I was). I thus spent part of each week, for the best half of four years, with the duo that leads the Conservative Party.
I never saw them tip the wink at their underlings to "destroy" a senior Shadow Minister, or leak details of another's alleged "drinking, fighting and carousing", or tip off newspapers about their rivals "drug use, spousal abuse, alcoholism and extra-marital affairs" – all conduct that Damian McBride writes of in his memoir, serialisation of which opens in the Daily Mail today. There are three possible explanations for this (assuming that Tory MPs as well as Labour ones are vulnerable to drinking, fighting, carousing, drug use, spousal abuse, alcoholism and extra-marital affairs which, since human nature is a given, is a reasonable presumption).
The first is that I'm incapable of seeing what goes on at the end of my nose. The second is that Cameron and Osborne did all this and more when I wasn't around. The third is that it didn't happen – or at least, to nothing like the same degree. Call me sentimental, self-deceived or a liar, but I'm sure the explanaton is the third. You don't get to the top of politics without being ruthless – and both are as much so as any politician I worked with during my ten years in the Commons. None the less, I can't imagine either discussing plans to set up a paper called, say, "Blue Rag" to smear a woman Labour MP with fictitious tales – as McBride did in relation to Nadine Dorries.
There is somehow something different about the way the Conservatives and Labour operate, and it isn't reducible to our old friend, class (for it both to be so and the principle to apply in the McBride case, working class people would have to behave worse than other-class people, which simply isn't true: in any event, Labour is no longer a working class party). And there is something particularly different about the way Gordon Brown and his circle operated – as the McBride serialisation reminds anyone in danger of forgetting. I have no idea what makes this difference happen but, for all the Tory Party's faults, the legend is the wrong way round. It is Labour which behaves like a Nasty Party – or did under Brown, right at the top. Kevin Toolis captures its tortured origins in his play, the Confessions of Gordon Brown, currently running in the West End.
Many Conservatives will rub their hands with glee at the timing of McBride's publication, right on the eve of Labour conference. They shouldn't. The pool of people who are willing to vote Conservative is smaller than that which is willing to vote Labour – one of the many indications that it is our Party, and not our rivals, that has a Brand Problem. The McPoison memoir is a reminder not of how well we're doing, but how far we have to travel. One more thing. McBride is letting down his old comrades by publishing. Perhaps he has been overcome by remorse, like Laertes at the end of Hamlet. Or the truth may be more simple and less noble: he simply wants the money.
9.45am Update A poster below on the thread says that I'm unfair to McBride in my final paragraph, because he won't be profiting from the book – royalties will be split between Cafod, the Catholic Agency. where McBride now works, and Finchley Catholic High School, where he worked before. Whatever may be the case about the serialisation, the poster is right about the royalties. That detail was contained in a footnote beneath a blog which Iain Dale wrote about that detail in March. The book is published by Biteback.