Dominic Lawson: Brown is finally the victim of his own licensed assassins

Brown’s courtiers never, ever, employ arguments of substance

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He's Brown by name and now Brown by colour, collaterally covered in the filth sprayed by his personal muck-spreading operation. It was on Friday night that it became known that the Prime Minister's "Head of Strategy and Planning" Damian McBride had sent to the Labour blogger Derek Draper emails which, among other things, contained an unwarranted personal slur on George Osborne's wife and cast doubt on the sexual health of David Cameron.

These and other items of malicious gossip were designed for publication in a New Labour campaign blog, to be called Red Rag, and Mr Draper was delighted: "These are absolutely totally brilliant, Damian... I'll think about timing."

No 10 Downing Street – where, at our expense, Mr McBride was busy inventing his "stories" – claims that as soon as the Prime Minister heard what his henchman was up to, he asked him to resign.

This is not the case: up until late on Saturday afternoon the two Scots had tried to wriggle out with a half-hearted apology from McBride, combined with a claim – which you may believe if you wish – that the emailed stories were never going to be published. It was only with extreme reluctance that the Prime Minister dispensed with the services of Mr McBride, after senior figures within the Labour party made it clear that they would accept nothing less.

Their fury is in fact much greater than that of Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne, for all that the Tories were the ostensible targets of McBride's poison pen. The reason for this is that they and their colleagues in the Labour movement have in the past been the victims of Mr Brown's licensed assassins – and this was their chance to make their feelings known.

Damian McBride (known as "McPoison" among the Parliamentary lobby) was not the only person to whom Brown deniably delegated this dirty work. There was Charlie Whelan, now providing his inimitably intimidating services to the Unite trade union, Labour's biggest donor; and there was Ed Balls, ever ready to tell journalists which members of the Cabinet were thought by then Chancellor Brown to be especially hopeless.

In those days, the briefing was never against the Tories, because they were not Mr Brown's enemies. The targets were Tony Blair, who had committed the unpardonable crime of becoming leader instead of Gordon, and any minister who was thought likely to challenge the then Chancellor's self-conceived absolute right of succession.

Mr Alan Milburn was a particular victim of this, when Mr Blair had the temerity to make him New Labour's general election coordinator. Brown's men launched their own internecine campaign, codenamed "Kill Mil"; destabilised by subsequent press rumours about the state of his personal life – now, where in the world could they have come from? – Milburn stepped down.

The chosen channels for many of these stories have not been the newspapers most read among Labour voters, but the Daily Mail and, latterly, The Daily Telegraph. It made sense, really; the right-wing press would have fewer qualms about running stories that were in reality damaging Labour – and the editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, had conceived Brown to be a kindred spirit, in contrast to the allegedly depraved Blair.

The Daily Mail's powerful editor was by no means alone in believing that, with the ascendancy of Gordon Brown to the office of Prime Minister, the so-called "culture of spin" would be at an end – not least because Gordon said so; but it was an assertion that many of Mr Brown's colleagues, victims of his internal campaign of denigration and even defamation, found completely risible.

They were right: Mr Brown's henchmen ran around the last Labour Party conference telling lobby correspondents that when he had said "This is no time for a novice" the Prime Minister was really referring, of course, to his own Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. Then, when the almost boringly loyal Alistair Darling suggested in an interview with The Guardian that the state of the British economy was perhaps not as good as it might be, Brown's hitmen – possibly including Ed Balls, who has his own particular ambitions – caused a series of stories to be written, casting doubt on the Chancellor's basic level of competence. I gather that both Mr and Mrs Darling were appalled and upset by this, but really, they should not have been surprised.

Perhaps most vile of all was the treatment of Ivan Lewis, who was an excellent Health Minister. Mr Lewis had been foolish enough to write an article saying that Labour needed "a new generation of political leadership", and a second, calling for the rich to be taxed more than Mr Brown had judged appropriate. It was not long before retribution struck. Within a matter of weeks, the Mail on Sunday and the News of the World carried the identical "scoop" that Lewis had pestered a young civil servant in his office, Susie Mason, and that she had had to be moved to another job. Note, not just that Gordon Brown's heavies had once again used the right-wing press to maim a fellow member of the Labour movement, but also that it did not bother them in the least to use a completely innocent junior civil servant as fodder for their feral acts of revenge.

Now, you may say that politics has ever been a mucky business, with journalists willingly allowing themselves to be used in the pursuit of the political vendettas of Westminster; but what is striking about the methods used by Brown's courtiers is that they never, ever, employ arguments of substance, still less principle, in their attacks against those who are deemed to have taken an incorrect position. They only go for the man, never the ball.

Perhaps this is because New Labour is itself a party shorn of ideology – it has no ball. It was both Blair and Brown who accepted the Thatcherite economic consensus, and in the sphere of foreign policy, they were, being less nationalistic, in practice even more pro-American than she was. It has been a terrible shock for some on the left in the media, who, for all Brown's known weaknesses, supported his putsch against Tony Blair – yes, it was a putsch – on the grounds that there would follow a return to "real" Labour policies. Their fury at being duped – I am thinking principally of The Guardian's Polly Toynbee and Jackie Ashley – has been a wonder to behold.

For all Brown's assiduous attempts at drawing "dividing lines" between himself and the Tories, there is little more than the smouldering remains of class war – as demonstrated to farcical effect in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. Gordon Brown, unlike his privately educated predecessor, has a visceral loathing of Osborne's and Cameron's "toff" public school background. This hatred would have communicated itself to Damian McBride – it might even have been shared – and thus it becomes all too easy to produce vicious little stories which treat the Tories as if they, and their wives, are not really human beings at all.

The sad thing is that Gordon Brown is indeed, as his friends insist, frequently high-minded and seized with the idea of a life devoted to serving the people. His flaw – and it is apparently uncontrollable – is to believe that anyone who stands in his way is an enemy of the people, and must be destroyed. Instead, it will destroy him; it has already all but destroyed his party.

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