what a weekend - and we’ve still got two days of the easter break left to go.
first guido fawkes trails the line “he who lives by the smear…” with a picture of downing street honcho Damian McBride (complete with crosshairs)
Then we hear emails exist, originating in No10, that discuss a campaign of smears against the Conservative leadership, MPs, and even bloggers.
Now I’m not going to claim for a second this is a one-off in politics. Even during my short political memory, the ‘new labour new danger’ posters to Labour’s ill-thought out shylock ad in 2005 have demonstrated the attraction of negative campaigning to all parties. (and before any Lib Dem’s feel left out, just remember Simon Hughes’ “straight candidate” campaign against Peter Tatchell.)
In the US, there is a law called “Posse Commatatus” which simply put says that the military cannot be used in civillian law-enforcement operations. To me, the main crux of the ‘Smeargate’ story is the role of a taxpayer-funded position being used to instigate/manage/contribute to wholly-political activity (and very,very dirty political activity at that) In other words, in the vein of posse commatatus, we need a much clearer divide between those who are governing and those who run the political operations of the governing party.
Had McBride been working at Labour party HQ, in a job paid for by the Labour party, then I doubt the story would be much less of a storm. (Indeed, the damage-limitation exercise attempted with a pre-emptive apology/leak to Saturday’s Telegraph might have worked if this was the case)
It’s a mess for Labour, no doubt. McBride’s closeness to Brown made him a huge liability and he had to go. One-nil to Mr Guido Fawkes. (Jane Merrick of the Independent has done a great blog on the scalp Fawkes has claimed here)Tom Watson MP and Derek Draper are still very much in the sights of both those on the right and left who have deplored the cheap tactics Labour are turning to in desperation. Even Alistair Campbell recognises that their actions are a long way from where politically, Labour’s main focus should be.
So what next? Tom Harris MP has hinted at what Charles Clarke will probably say a great deal over the next few days - Derek Draper should be cut loose, while the Tories have been given free-reign to launch another “Gordon should say sorry” campaign - which on today’s evidence should be dominating the news agenda until well into the middle of the week. I expect, given Chris Grayling’s role over the Easter weekend, that when Cameron/Osborne/Hague return to the fold as the story dies down, it will be to re-focus their attack on the downturn and Brown’s refusal to acknowledge his culpability in events. The line already being deployed about DowningSt playing dirty politics instead of working to fix the economy and protect jobs will be hammered home, and rightly so.
There might even be a proposal to change the role of special advisors, one which would be welcomed in liht of this story. But a note of caution - if you expect politicians to operate in a politics-free zone once they assume Governmental office, that is to invite opposition politicans to be even more political.
The best way to ensure political debate focuses on the issues that matter to the Country is to expose those who seek to detract from such debate with crass, cheap politics. And for that, Guido Fawkes has performed a public service for which he should be applauded.