The fact that Damian McBride has quit his post as Gordon Brown's special adviser over the attempt to smear the Tories shouldn't be seen as the end of this affair.
In my view, this episode is far worse than the recent various MPs' expenses scandals. Those have been mainly about politicians exploiting generous rules to the full and it is not clear to what extent those rules have been infringed, if at all.
By contrast, even thinking about indulging in the politics of personal destruction is, or should be, a big no-no. There can be no conceivable justification whatsoever for launching smears against opponents and that sort of behaviour must be stamped out.
But the fact that McBride has fallen on his sword is not enough. There are plenty of questions that need answering.
1) Will Brown launch a full independent investigation into whether this was a one-off or whether smear tactics have been discussed before?
2) Will he ensure that all relevant emails and other communications are disclosed to such an investigation? After all, if there's nothing to hide, he's got nothing to fear...
3) Given that Brown himself has a reputation for being someone who operates through a small but trusted team of close-knit advisers, is it the case that McBride never discussed these tactics with his boss? Is that really credible? Given that people like Brown's former spin doctor Charlie Whelan were copied in on the emails, is it really credible to suggest that none of them thought to mention the exchange to Brown?
4) McBride worked closely with Cabinet Office minister Tom Watson, another close adviser to Brown who is referred to in emails between McBride and Draper. He denies any involvement in the smear campaign. However, Watson does have form in spreading smears and innuendo: for instance, he was sacked from his role as campaign manager in the Hartlepool by-election after claiming that Lib Dem candidate Jody Dunn was 'soft on drugs' because she'd represented drug addicts in her capacity as a barrister. Is it really credible to suggest that an attack dog like Watson had no involvement with planning smears, especially given how closely he and McBride worked together?
5) Derek Draper is a long-time associate of Business Secretary Peter Mandelson. Given that Draper's return to active politics coincided with Mandelson's return to British politics from Europe, did Draper have any discussions with Mandelson about these tactics?
6) Will Brown give a commitment to sack anyone else in his government who is found to have taken part in discussions about smear tactics?
I can see this saga running and running.
A walk through Montpelier, Bristol
4 months ago