PM must apologise for Labour Smeargate
Political Editor Graham Dines looks at the case of the poisoned emails and says Gordon Brown must apologise IF the leaked emails had remained secret and unpublished, Labour might have gone into the General Election campaign on the back of smearing leading Conservative MPs and their wives with untrue allegations.
Political Editor Graham Dines looks at the case of the poisoned emails and says Gordon Brown must apologise
IF the leaked emails had remained secret and unpublished, Labour might have gone into the General Election campaign on the back of smearing leading Conservative MPs and their wives with untrue allegations.
The media may not have published them, but the blogosphere - which has assumed a pivotal role in the dissemination of news and thought - would have been awash with downright lies about David Cameron, George Osborne and his wife Frances, and the MP Nadine Dorries.
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A brief recap on what's happened: Damian McBride, Downing Street's head of strategy and planning and a civil servant whose salary was paid by the taxpayer, sent emails in January to Labour's “official” blogger Derek Draper suggesting a smear campaign using a proposed new website, RedRag.
In the first email - obtained by blogger Guido Fawkes - sent on January 13, McBride wrote: “A few ideas I have been working on for RedRag.” The ideas included spreading several false rumours about Mr Cameron, the Osbornes and others. No evidence exists that any of the claims are true.
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Draper responded: “Absolutely totally brilliant Damian. I'll think about timing and sort out the technology this week so we can go as soon as possible.”
McBride sent a second email offering “a couple more thoughts on stories” and to falsely hint at the existence of embarrassing photographs of Osborne from his university days.
The political tracts of the 18th and 19th centuries are testament to the proud history of lampooning in this country. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has earned the name “Cleggover” for boasting about the number of his sexual conquests, while William Hague will never be allowed to forget his juvenile admission of downing 14 pints of lager.
But smearing your political opponents and their families with vile, malicious lies is beyond the pale and which Charles Clarke, the Norwich South MP and former Home Secretary, said “brings shame on the Labour Party.”
McBride was Gordon Brown's protector, a cross-between a spin doctor and gatekeeper to the Prime Minister's inner sanctum. Attack being the best form of defence, he would collar political journalists and distribute stories like sweets and set his teeth into anybody who wrote a bad word about his master.
Michael White, who is close to Labour and is one of the most respected political journalists of the past couple of decades, writes in The Guardian: “He (McBride) shouldn't have been dabbling in what sounds like squalid stuff, but it helps to understand why people like him do what they do. They do it to protect their boss and undermine opponents whom they think enjoy an unfair advantage in a corrupted media environment.”
Adam Bolton, political editor of Sky News, says: “The internet has changed the rules for people in public life in two significant respects. Firstly emails leave a trail of written evidence far more accessible to exposure than any paper trail or series of phone calls. Secondly, the blogosphere and websites offer the public quicker and easier access to potentially damaging revelations and allegations.”
That's certainly true. I can blog on the EADT website and comments are immediately available to be read - and, although I say it myself, are being increasingly read - not only among the political classes in the UK but worldwide.
A blog is an irreverent posting of comment which is not only topical, but which in many cases would not be published in mainstream newspapers. Knowing the limit to where you can push the barrier no further depends on a blogger's personal morality.
For instance Guido Fawkes tests the limits of acceptability. His blog www.order-order.com publishes comment which many might find offensive and juvenile but which delights far more.
But at worst, that is name-calling, part of the political rough and tumble. It is totally different from spreading lies about “embarrassing illnesses” and cross-dressing.
The most fascinating aspect in all this is: How did these mails become public? Who leaked them and why?
The Prime Minister's spokesman yesterday said Mr Brown was “furious.” He sent hand written notes to the people defamed, expressing his regret. That's not enough.
Gordon Brown is leader of the Labour Party. McBride and Draper became fundamentally important to Labour's attempt to win a fourth term in office, one working in Downing Street and the other semi-detached running a blogsite in support of Labour.
These emails do not read as if they are lighthearted banter. They are serious suggestions for Labour to launch smears against leading Tories to destabilise them in an election campaign.
And that's the reason why Brown should apologise in full. Unless he does so, the stench will haunt him forever and add to the “huge amount of frustration”' in Downing Street that the controversy was diverting attention from efforts to deal with the recession