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Power Trip: A Decade of Policy, Plots and Spin Hardcover – 25 Sep 2013
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It is being billed as the must-read political book of the year. --The Independent
[A] captivating account... It is unlikely that his account will change many minds about this greatly flawed politician, but its self-lacerating candour and humour deserve a wide audience. It is both a memoir and a manual, one that will serve historians, students of the craft of politics and if they take the trouble to read it those Conservatives who are even now working on how to get David Cameron back to Downing Street in 2015. It is the essential political book of the year... There are anecdotes galore involving nudity, vast amounts of alcohol, and dirty tricks. His memoir will be read first for the elegant and lightly told vignettes. McBride can write, which makes it a pleasure to read... So much of this invaluable book is true. --Benedict Brogan, The Telegraph
The first thing to say is that I think the book is structured very well... It is an excellent read and for a political geek like me there was enough behind the scenes colour and filling in the gaps for episodes that I recall seeing unfold from the outside to keep me glued to it for the 2 days (on and off) it took me to read it... I would certainly recommend this book to anyone interested in politics and/or the processes that go on behind the scenes. I suspect that all the main movers and shakers of all parties will have it on their reading lists, and that's if they haven't already read it. In the world of Westminster there is almost no bigger compliment for political memoirs. It shows you once mattered and Damian McBride certainly did. --Mark Thompson
Although there is no shortage of New Labour memoirs, what gives this book a ghastly fascination is that it is the first no-holds-barred account of life at Brown's court... It is well written, generous to friend and foe alike and the author's undoubted boastfulness is tempered by heavy doses of self-deprecation. --Chris Mullin, The Observer
It is pacy and McBride writes with a nice turn of phrase. As a glimpse into the Brown bunker it offers much. --Robert Shrimsley, Financial Times
About the Author
Damian McBride is Head of Media and PR for CAFOD. Previously he was Head of Communications at the Treasury and was a special adviser to Gordon Brown.
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My impression is that Damian McBride has written these memoirs before he has fully redeemed himself, and had this book appeared in five or ten years' time he might have presented himself in a slightly less defiant light. He admits to being a thoroughly dislikable person within office (and he lived and breathed his work, hardly ever taking a holiday) but there are hints that he still retains a certain degree of pride in that.
So yes, it is interesting but really all it serves to do is to tell you in detail what you either knew already, or thought you knew in general. There are potentially more shocking, controversial or juicy tales to tell involving Tony Blair, but compared to Gordon Brown, Blair hardly gets a mention. My abiding impression of Power Trip is that despite its detail into relationships between government and the media, it still feels somewhat censored and fails to explore some of the scandals and conspiracy theories surrounding the Labour government between 1997 and 2010 and if anything they are conspicuous for their absence.
With terse prose, the story is pact and never flags.
It is a fascinating account of an insiders life.
I almost hesitate to say this about a spin doctor, but I perceived a vein of honesty throughout the narrative.
Grumble: the Kindle version suffers from poor formatting,typos and some spelling errors. This is sloppy and irksome.
Even allowing for the usual pattern of people talking up their own achievements in their memoirs, and even allowing for the fact that people on all sides - in Labour and out of Labour, in the press and in parties, have labelled him as a one-off talent (frequently with accompanying derogatory adjective) - it is still a far less flattering portrait of the state of British journalism than you would guess from the reviews of his book written by political journalists. Those reviews neither attack the book for unfairly smearing their profession nor admit embarrassment at the state of their profession, but rather have pretty much all just ignored what he has to say about them.
Whether or not you find the critical picture painted in McBride's book an accurate account of the state of British political journalism, the fact that the profession has reacted with a collective 'meh, nothing to see here', suggests he does raise issues that some would rather not face up to.
In amongst his frequent accounts of how he saved the day for Labour politicians, McBride ironically offers up a defence of those journalists he has just told us he so frequently manipulated. They were all under great pressure to run stories, so if he had a ready supply of good stories for them, is it any wonder they were often willing to go along with his suggestions about what stories to ditch in order to get a good story handed out by him all neatly packaged and in good time for their deadlines?
Some of the culture he describes is distinctly unflattering, especially the heavy drinking both on his side of the fence: "I was practically encouraged to take thirsty journos for the boozy lunches, long afternoons in the pub and late-night karaoke sessions that led to strong relationships and the open sharing of intelligence ... The occasions when I couldn't remember the previous night's events became more frequent and more worrying ... Even when - as a special adviser - I had a one-sided physical altercation with a civil servant ... and Gordon [Brown] was told to speak to me about it, he addressed it bashfully in terms of me having a bad temper, not being a bad drunk".
If you think that someone shouldn't regularly be drunk on the job, then Ed Balls comes out of the book very poorly for frequently knowing that McBride was heavily inebriated during working hours but seemingly never doing anything about it other than at times finding it amusing. McBride does not criticise Balls on this score, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that a better colleague and a better advisor to his boss would have taken McBride's drinking rather more seriously.
There are legitimate grounds for sympathy with the difficulties of working culture in which McBride found himself. Not just the normality of heavy drinking but also the always-on intensive pressure which meant even heading to a funeral did not stop the phone calls. (The personal pressures involved reminded me of similar accounts in former Labour general secretary Peter Watt's memoirs, Inside Out: My story of betrayal and cowardice at the heart of New Labour, with him taking phone calls on his wedding day.)
The book pulls its punches in a few places. Essentially if a journalist is praised, they get named, but where they might come out poorly from an account (such as an undue willingness to take the McBride spin on a story), they do not get named. As a result, even within the same paragraph, Damian McBride switches from naming to not naming the people he is talking about. Yet even a pulled punch from McBride leaves an awful lot in the account, making it one of those few books which really does deserve the label of being an essential account of what goes on inside politics.
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