PRWeek asked ten leading media professionals to rate McBride, Alastair Campbell, David Hill, Charlie Whelan and Andy Coulson out of ten.
Campbell was seen as the most effective operator of recent years with an average score of 8.2 out of ten, while McBride came last with an average score of 5.5.
Hanover MD Charles Lewington said of McBride: ‘He made even more enemies than Alastair, which is saying something.’ Burson-Marsteller chairman Gavin Grant said: ‘It has been a torrid time at Number 10. In-fighting became the game of choice. PROs shouldn’t be the story or get rumbled doing the dirty work. So Damian had to go.’
However, lobby journalists were far less critical of McBride. Daily Mirror associate editor (politics) Kevin Maguire said: ‘McBride was a terrific operator with a surprisingly impressive grasp of policy. He helped sustain Gordon Brown during a terrible political period for the Prime Minister and while no saint, some of the flak flying his way is unfair because I know who said what and it was not him’.
Another political editor who asked not to be named added: ‘Gordon will soon find out that he is terribly exposed. For years Brown has been protected. His strange persona has been filtered to a large degree by clever people such as McBride and Ed Balls. That will now end and will be reflected in the coverage.’
The lobby journalist added: ‘No-one denies McBride could operate at the limits of what was acceptable but it is completely overblown that he briefed against ministers.’
Meanwhile a source close to Brown told PRWeek: ‘McBride was doing it virtually all on his own – at least Campbell had a bit more help.’
The source also highlighted the effort McBride put in with the right-wing press. ‘He was pretty crucial in keeping them not so hostile,’ said the source.
Defenders of McBride also pointed out some of the Tory scalps he delivered, including the resignations of James McGrath, who was forced out from London Mayor Boris Johnson’s administration.
The PRWeek panel
1. Gavin Grant Burson-Marsteller (left)
2. Lord Bell Chime Communications
3. Charles Lewington Hanover Communications
4. Mike Granatt Luther Pendragon
5. Colin Byrne Weber Shandwick (left)
6. Steve Morris Portland PR
7. Lucian Hudson FCO
8. Kevin Maguire The Daily Mirror
9. Julia Hartley-Brewer Sunday Express
10. One other lobby journalist
8.2 Alastair Campbell, former Downing St comms director*
7.1 David Hill, former Downing St comms director*
6.7 Andy Coulson, Tory director of comms*
5.7 Charlie Whelan, former press secretary to Brown*
5.5 Damian McBride, political and press adviser to Brown*
* Average score out of 10 based on ratings given to PRWeek