Rarely has an opposition leader been handed a phrase as good as the “forces of hell” to play with at Prime Minister’s Questions. So memorable was Alistair Darling’s expression that one wonders if it was coined by his wife, Maggie, a former journalist.
Almost as effective was the Chancellor’s thinly veiled putdown of Damian McBride:
Of course there were people saying things, but frankly my best answer for them is the fact that I’m still here, one of them is not.
Darling, who behaved with quiet dignity as he was smeared and traduced by Gordon Brown’s henchmen, has every right to tell his side of the story but the timing of his intervention will inevitably attract criticism. His words have revived the row over Brown’s character just as it appeared to be fading, and have gifted David Cameron with new ammunition to use against the Prime Minister.
The story of how McBride and the thuggish Charlie Whelan attempted to destroy Darling’s reputation after he correctly told the Guardian that we were facing the worst recession in 60 years is not new. But “forces of hell” so succinctly describes their behaviour that the tale has acquired a potency it previously lacked.
I always expected that Andrew Rawnsley’s reminder of Brown’s contemptible treatment of his Chancellor would prove more damaging for Labour than the bullying allegations. Darling’s confirmation that the Prime Minister’s aides briefed against him will upset No 10’s attempt to dismiss the Rawnsley book as tittle-tattle and reheated gossip.
Brown’s risible attempts to deny that any briefing took place will only increase the damage to his reputation.