‘Smeargate’: That Was The Easter Weekend That Was

by Stephen Tall on April 14, 2009

I know it’s the Westminster Village story de jour, but I’m finding it very hard to work up motivation to blog on what is being portentously dubbed ‘Smeargate’, Labour’s cretinous attempts to stick the boot into the Tories.

Damian McBride, the author of the emails slurring his opponents, has deservedly lost his job (hard to believe, by the way, he’s 34 – if ever there were a walking advertisement for not becoming Gordon Brown’s media-bitch, it’s Damian). Derek Draper limps on as the public face of LabourList.org, reduced to empty exhortations for “the whole blogosphere, right and left, to commit to a new start, where offensiveness and personal attacks are avoided and debate is elevated not dragged down into the gutter”. Okay, Derek, ‘course we believe you’ve turned over a new leaf this time.

The Tories are demanding apologies, and the right-wing blogosphere is up-in-self-righteously-triumphant-arms. Labour is embarrassed, and the lefty blogosphere is torn between condemnation of Mr McBride, and tribal loyalty to Labour and/or tribal hatred of the Tories.

It’s predictable, it’s inevitable, it’s sterile.

Alastair Campbell made the most telling point on his blog – the last thing Labour wants to do is find itself mired in personality and process stories. It would do far better, key much more into voters’ fears, to focus four-square on the Tories’ policies:

… on reading the emails [McBride] sent, I was struck not just by their unpleasantness, but also by their incompetence and, most of all, how much they miss the point about where we are politically. The Tories are at their most vulnerable on policy. As I have been saying for some time, it is in this area that there has to be sustained, co-ordinated and vigorous attack, ensuring the public are aware of the incoherence and inconsistencies in the positions of those who would claim to be the next government of the UK.

(Of course, it’s much easier to be high-minded when out of office. It was Alastair Campbell, after all, who invented and spread the unsubstantiated rumour that John Major tucked his short into his pants. An innocent enough lie compared with Mr McBride’s, to be sure, but the tapestry’s woven from the same cloth).

My guess – and it’s just that – is that the weekend skirmishes will have little effect on the public (or at least that part of it which didn’t have better things to do with its Easter weekend than watch/read rolling news coverage). The whole tasteless episode will get wrapped inside the general ‘they’re all at it’ / ‘politicians are divorced from reality’ meme sparked by the recession, and ignited by the MPs’ expenses scandals.

Insofar as ‘the blogoshere’ will have entered the public consciousness, it will have seemed as distanced from their lives, as obsessed with the Westminster Village, as fuelled by egotistical machismo as those scrounging politicians held in such contempt by their constituents.

This was a squalid, tawdry story from start to finish which reflects badly on the gossipy, onanistic world of Westminster politics. The fact that it’s beem amped-up on the Internet doesn’t change that rather banal fact.

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Whatever you think of the story, it has generated more than 1600 news articles, but has not provoked a single comment from any Liberal Democrat politician. Indeed, the LibDem website hasn’t been updated since last Thursday. At a time when there is general discontent with the two main parties, a third party should be making gains, not sitting around waiting for this story to go away.

by David on April 14, 2009 at 4:04 pm. Reply #

I think the story is a bit more important than you portray it as being, Stephen.
Firstly, I can think of no comparable example in recent times of an attempt to launch a smear campaign of such magnitude by people so close to the Prime Minister. That is significant.
Secondly, it reinforces the image in people’s minds of a government which is dying on its feet, at the mercy of events rather than shaping them. It makes Labour’s defeat next year that bit more inevitable and total.
And thirdly, we should be shouting loudly that episodes like this show how rotten and corrupt our political system is with so much power concentrated in Whitehall. I agree with David when he says that we should be elbowing our way into a story like this. Instead, the party collectively seems to have just put its feet up over the weekend and enjoyed an Easter break.

by Bernard Salmon on April 14, 2009 at 7:15 pm. Reply #

You underestimate the importance of the story.

There were more than McBride involved with smears in Downing St (See Guido Fawkes).

ITV news 6.30pm 14 April has reported that if Gordon Brown does not apologise profusely he will have to step down.

Where is Cowley St ?

by David Evershed on April 14, 2009 at 7:21 pm. Reply #

Yawn yawn yawn. This is just a couple of people batting about stupid ideas in emails. I cannot believe it has been lead story on the news for four days when there is so much else going on.

by Jennie on April 15, 2009 at 1:20 am. Reply #

“This was a squalid, tawdry story from start to finish which reflects badly on the gossipy, onanistic world of Westminster politics” – Completely accurate.

“I think the story is a bit more important than you portray it as being, Stephen” – Completely accurate.

This is a big story, which we should be attacking precisely BECAUSE it’s so symptomatic of the esoteric Westminster bollocks the LibDems want to stop.

by James on April 15, 2009 at 10:17 am. Reply #

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