Saturday, 18 April 2009


British news has been dominated for a week by ‘Smeargate’. It’s been brilliant. It’s a huge scandal, kept alive by the media and Conservative politicians brimming with self-righteous indignation and synthesised hurt feelings.

It’s about some ugly smears almost published against Tory leaders.

Yes, that’s right, ‘almost’. They didn’t actually appear. A close but soon to be ex-adviser to Gordon Brown, Damian McBride, sent them by e-mail to Derek Draper who planned to run an anti-Tory website ‘Red Rag’. A Conservative blogger got hold of the e-mails and sent them to the papers, and the coverage hasn’t stopped since. McBride was fired, Gordon Brown, who has difficulty pronouncing the ‘S’ word, actually said ‘sorry’, but there was no let up.

Now, McBride seems a nasty piece of work. The smears even contained rumours about the wife of one of the targets, which is about as odious as these things get. But McBride has been fired, to the relief of Labourites as much as anyone since McBride was not above attacking colleagues if he felt they might oppose him. Brown, however slowly or reluctantly, has apologised. None of the material was used. Shouldn’t it all be over?

Oh, no. Because this is a dying government. The atmosphere reminds me of the mid 1990s. That was a time of constant damaging revelations about the then Conservative government. It’s hard to remember them all, but among the most notable were Cash for Questions, where MPs had accepted payments to ask potentially embarrassing parliamentary questions of Ministers, the jailing of Jonathan Aitken who had perjured himself in a libel action over allegations of corruption in office, and the jailing of Jeffrey Archer, one of Thatcher’s darlings, also for perjury when he falsely denied having paid for sex with a prostitute. The atmosphere had moved decisively against the Tories, after a decade and a half in power. Nothing they did could find favour and any transgression, major or minor, received maximum publicity, so that people already convinced of the need to vote them out at the earliest opportunity could feel justified in their decision.

Today the mood is the same, but this time against their successors. Any stick can be used to beat Labour. That’s why they can be attacked even for allegations they didn’t actually make. So David Cameron and his friends go on kicking up a fuss about ‘Smeargate’, milking it for all it’s worth.

Of course, maybe I’m wrong and Cameron is really as upset as he claims. If so, perhaps he’s too sensitive a flower for the brutality of political life. Might he not be better off retreating to the safety of one of those nice, secluded Oxford Colleges, such as All Souls?

If he did, I’d love to be the first to wish him well in his alternative career. Sadly, however, I think we’re much more likely to see him in Downing Street than in Oxford.

God help us all.


Anonymous said...

Does anybody know how an e-mail destined for Draper ended up with Guido Fawkes?


David Beeson said...

McBride has had some years of turning his guns on lots of people, including plenty inside the party - anyone who stood in his way or in Gordon Brown's way, or who her perceived as standing in their way. In that process he must have made a few enemies. Perhaps one of them felt that sending confidential material even to someone as deeply hostile to Labour as Guido Fawkes/Paul Staines was a legitimate way of getting back at McBride.

It's also just possible, isn't it, that McBride may have inadvertantly copied his e-mails to someone who shouldn't have received them. It wouldn't be the first time that had happened.

Whatever the result, it cost him his job but much more significantly, it's another horrible own goal for Labour...