From the News Editor - PM could rue McBride's departure

So farewell to Stephen Carter and Damian McBride.

This year Gordon Brown attempted to bolster the Number Ten media operation with a series of appointments from the private sector. But last week saw a clear acknowledgement that the strategy has failed as Carter and McBride were given their marching orders.

Carter's departure to the House of Lords will have come as no great surprise to those who have been observing the dysfunctional Downing Street comms machine.

During his brief spell at Number Ten, Carter spectacularly failed to come up with any kind of strategy to save the PM's ailing reputation - although allies say the ex-Brunswick CEO was never given a fair crack of the whip by hostile members of Brown's inner circle.

Less expected - though perhaps inevitable - was the downfall of McBride, the PM's long-serving top media handler and a central figure in Team Brown. The former Treasury civil servant will stay on at Number Ten but in a backseat role, working with the newly appointed Blairite Cabinet Office minister Liam Byrne.

Under McBride's watch, Brown's poll ratings plummeted as the Downing Street turf wars raged on. The PM went from being viewed as strong and decisive to weak and dithering. Earlier this year, Weber Shandwick CEO Colin Byrne became one of the few senior Labour figures to go public with his criticism when he claimed McBride was doing little more than 'just phoning up people and shouting at them'.

Last month's infamous '3am briefing' about the departure of Ruth Kelly was the coup de grace for McBride as he committed the cardinal sin of becoming the story and his critics demanded his head.

However, McBride cannot and should not be held responsible for Brown's failure to connect with the public. As our straw poll of senior figures in PR and journalism (page 3) suggests, McBride has many attributes including an impressive grasp of policy and a nose for a story.

Ultimately, McBride was a talented operator working with a flawed product. His departure was a necessity forced on Brown and the PM may yet prove to be weaker as a result.


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