The two Eds at the top of the Labour party were facing increased pressure today after revelations that former spin doctor Alastair Campbell found them bullish and defensive.
The third volume of his memoirs, released today, describe Ed Miliband as a “leftish” and one of the key players in the conflict between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
‘Power and Responsibility’ documents the period between 1999 and 2001, when New Labour won its second election victory and negotiated a peace deal in Northern Ireland – all whilst the antipathy between Tony Blair and his Chancellor Gordon Brown grew.
Writing exclusively for The Huffington Post, the controversial former spin chief yesterday insisted his diaries are published in a “different context” but stressed he would continue to write about his time in Government and his role in the Labour party.
However the book reveals more about the extent of internal division and negative briefing within the Labour party. Reading it, you can’t help but be struck by how the current spats within the coalition seem fairly benign compared with what happened under New Labour.
In one incident in September 2001, Gordon Brown lies about his full involvement and knowledge about F1 chief’s Bernie Ecclestone’s donations to the party in a Channel 4 interview.
Mr Campbell writes that Tony Blair was concerned the line was “untenable”, and could “scarcely believe it”.
“It got worse when GB said he was not aware of the true story and that he never got involved in donations. It was as if he had been bothered with it by TB and then told TB he should not discuss it, whereas in fact it was GB who had the idea of referring it to [Lord] Neill [chair of the committee on Standards in Public Life] and who also attended meetings on it with Derry Irvine, [Sir] Robin Butler [Cabinet Secretary at the time of the Ecclestone row] and others...
“TB said when the going got tough, GB saw everything from his own perspective.”
Campbell recalls Labour’s current leader Ed Miliband being defensive and sensitive to criticism of his then boss, Gordon Brown.
“I chatted to Ed Miliband and said we had to get GB’s meetings [with No 10] going again. But they were so sensitive and went over the same old things again and again.”
And he reveals that during his time as an advisor to the treasury Ed Miliband was wary of Peter Mandelson, a key player in the relationship between Blair and Brown.
An entry in late September 2000 recalls how Ed Miliband felt “they could just not trust” Mandelson, who at the time was Northern Ireland Secretary.
During a tense meeting in October 2000 on Labour’s strategy, Campbell writes that Mandelson “went mad” with both Ed Miliband and then-Downing Street advisor Anji Hunter. The meeting took place a few months before Peter Mandelson had to resign for the second time from Blair’s cabinet over sleaze allegations.
The diaries also reveal how the current Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls gatecrashed Labour’s strategy meetings, treated Tony Blair like a “junior official” and questioned the philosophy of New Labour just two years after the party’s first massive landslide. Balls told Philip Gould in 1999 after a discussion of polling data, “New Labour was the problem because it wasn’t popular.”
By the start of 2001 Campbell says Number 10’s concern about Ed Balls had grown. “TB [was questioning the quality of the people round GB [Gordon Brown]. He felt he was hopelessly reliant on Ed Balls who was clever but sometimes lacked judgement.”
Campbell notes Tony Blair being struck by Balls’ rudeness. In entry for February 2001. “Over dinner on the plane, TB said he was shocked at how rude Ed Balls was during their discussions on the Budget. Anyone watching would have been hard pressed to imagine he was the Prime Minister and Balls an aide to one of his ministers.”
By contrast Miliband’s elder brother and leadership rival, David, comes off well in the book - in March 2010 intervening in Campbell’s relationship after the spin doctor’s partner Fiona told him she was “no longer prepared to take second place to TB, and saying if I stayed [working for Downing Street] it meant the job meant more to me than she did.”
David Miliband told Campbell that he and his partner were “the strongest couple he knew”. In response the spin doctor advised him to become an MP, noting “I strongly felt he should”.
The book also details Campbell’s journey from behind-the-scenes spin doctor to public figure who was mentioned in PMQs, the subject of a Channel 4 documentary and the subject of countless articles about ‘spin’.