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Westminster Insider

The dark arts of politics

Season 10, Ep. 8

In the final episode of the season, host Aggie Chambre explores the clandestine operations, secretive briefing wars and campaign stunts that make up the darker side of politics — and asks if there is still a place for such activities in 2023. 

She speaks to crossbench peer John Woodcock, who — in a former life — was a Labour Party researcher and occasional undercover spy. He tells Aggie how one secret mission in 2005 derailed the career of a former deputy Conservative Party chairman. 

Former Downing Street comms boss and News of the World editor Andy Coulson tells how, while working for David Cameron in opposition, he took advantage of Gordon Brown's decision not to call an election with a simple but eye-catching PR stunt. 

Another former Cameron aide, Giles Kenningham, explains why — with an election looming — political parties will now be building up treasure troves of secret recordings and other destructive data to deploy against their opponents.

Former Labour Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong talks about the internal dark arts —underhand techniques used against party colleagues — and why her boss Tony Blair, no great fan of such methods, chose not to take action against a serial rebel on his backbenches called Jeremy Corbyn.

Commons public administration committee Chair William Wragg and former Deputy Chief Whip Anne Milton explain why they think the dark arts are best left in the past.

And Paul Staines, of the notorious Guido Fawkes blog, reveals some of the underhand tricks he uses to get his biggest scoops — and explains why for him, the very best stories are those that end politicians' careers. 

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