Feature

United Kingdom: Fallout from a sleazy scandal

Damian McBride, until recently Prime Minister Gordon Brown's chief political strategist, was caught making up lies and planting gossip about senior Conservative politicians and their wives.

The prime minister’s top political advisor is a sleaze-monger, said The Sun in an editorial. Damian McBride, until recently the chief strategist for Prime Minister Gordon Brown, was “caught making up sordid lies” about senior Conservative politicians and their wives. The scandal broke last week, when a right-wing blog obtained and published an e-mail from McBride to another Labor Party operative, detailing plans to plant gossip about Tories on a left-wing blog. The smears included unfounded allegations that Conservative leader David Cameron had a sexually transmitted disease and that other Tory members of Parliament had had adulterous affairs. McBride immediately apologized and resigned.

But Brown still has a lot of explaining to do, said Jackie Ashley in The Guardian. McBride, known to reporters by his nicknames “McNasty and McPoison,” was not some aberration. He was, in fact, the heart of Brown’s “shadow operation” of spin doctors who spread rumors about Brown’s rivals—mostly, ironically, his Labor Party rivals, not his Tory opponents. Now, “even his greatest supporters know that Brown has run a kind of dual premiership, partly high-minded and principled and partly vicious and tribal.” The prime minister can’t get away with pretending surprise at McBride’s tactics, “as if he’d been walking around with a portly vulture on his shoulder for years without noticing.” McBride was a top strategist. If Brown didn’t know what he was up to, “he should have.”

Of course Brown was aware of McBride’s scummy tactics, said The Independent. This episode did not just come out of the blue. Several years ago, when Brown was chancellor of the exchequer and itching to replace Tony Blair as prime minister, he used McBride to smear Blair every chance he got. Last October, Brown was forced to remove McBride as his communications director, after McBride’s “attack dog” tactics alienated reporters and rendered the entire press office dysfunctional. Yet “instead of getting rid of him,” Brown made McBride his political strategist, a role in which the “pit bull” could use “the darker arts of spin.” This affair proves that Brown runs a “secretive, sectarian, and cabal-ridden” government.

Welcome to the age of the blogosphere, said The Mirror. McBride was planning to plant rumors on a left-wing blog to counter the smears that routinely emanate from right-wing blogs. These blogs lower the tone of political discourse for the entire country. They are simply “cretinous, infantile forums of abuse dressed up as argument” where “pompous prigs of all political persuasions” try to pass themselves off as intellectuals. The best way to counter such drivel is to ignore it. These “small-minded attention seekers” have “seduced the real political world into thinking they actually matter. They don’t.”

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