A scandal that lifts the lid on the seamier side of spin

Leading article: If McBride's briefings were widely known in No 10, more heads will roll

Share
Related Topics

The big question facing the Prime Minister following the departure of his disgraced adviser is: did others in Number 10 have any idea of what Damian McBride was up to? If other senior officials, let alone the Prime Minister, are shown to have had the slightest inkling of the depths to which Mr McBride was taking the word "spin", the scandal over his emails directed at senior Tories will not be solved by his departure alone.

Let us assume – and hope – that Mr Brown, in all his frantic activity, had no detailed knowledge of the kind of loathsome campaigns in which one of his closest aides was engaged. But the Prime Minister remains damaged by this scandal. Mr McBride was part of a small team of ultra-loyalists who have surrounded Mr Brown since he became chancellor, making many enemies in their energetic defence of him. The Prime Minister knew that Mr McBride was an unmanageable attack dog and had been warned that "McPoison", to quote his revealing nickname, was a liability.

Despite this, Mr Brown's clannish, suspicious instincts prevailed. He had the opportunity to dispatch Mr McBride last year, when his then media adviser briefed journalists about Ruth Kelly's forthcoming resignation "to spend more time with her family" – while she slept. But instead of getting rid of him, he shuffled the deck, moving Mr McBride from media to strategy – a backstage arena in which the temptation to dabble in the darker arts of spin seemed greater than ever.

Now Mr Brown must face the consequences of his mistaken loyalty. The vaunted "new era" of Brown government, supposedly marked by more transparency, less control freakery and, above all, less spin, has been exposed – though not for the first time – as a total sham. Of course, politics is all too often a dirty business. And Mr McBride is not the first government adviser to touch on politicians' personal lives in briefings against the opposition. But this sort of smearing is different to the spin that surrounded Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher. This is the lowest sort of politics, inventing sleaze to smear opponents – even their partners – in the pursuit of political advantage. To dismiss this as merely "juvenile" is insufficient.

Apart from the question about whether others in Number 10 were in the loop about the strategy adviser is a separate, albeit related, issue. Mr McBride was pursuing highly partisan political activities on taxpayers' money, breaching civil service rules. Amid the hullabaloo over the content of his emails, we must not forget that he was not paid for by the Labour Party. He was a seconded civil servant, paid, handsomely, out of our pockets. If it achieves nothing else, we must hope that Mr McBride's departure again focuses attention on the way the dividing line between civil servants advising the Government and people on the public payroll spinning for the Labour Party has become blurred over the last decade.

Ultimately, the McBride affair does more than reflect badly on Mr Brown and his secretive, sectarian and cabal-ridden style of government. It further damages the public reputation of Parliament and of the British political class at a time when they can least afford it. From Lords asking questions for cash, to MPs claiming expenses for holiday homes and satellite pornography, to the McBride scandal – it's a rotten trajectory. In spite of what some say, ours is not yet a society in which the words politics and politician should evoke automatic contempt. Many members of Parliament remain deeply honourable in their intentions. But once again, politics has been dragged into the gutter, and this time it is Downing Street itself involved. For this alone, the McBride affair is a sorry reflection on Mr Brown's term in government.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lift and Elevator Service Manager - Birmingham

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Circles South East Youth Service: Youth Services Volunteer

this is an unpaid voluntary position: Circles South East Youth Service: LOOKIN...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - OTE £30,000+

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading privately owned sp...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is require...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Yorkshire Terrier waits to be judged during the Toy and Utility day of the Crufts dog show at the NEC in Birmingham  

There are no winners at Crufts. Dogs deserve better than to suffer and die for a 'beauty' pageant

Mimi Bekhechi
 

Daily catch-up: how come Ed Miliband’s tuition fee ‘cut’ is so popular, then?

John Rentoul
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn