At the end of a long week, Gordon Brown has apologised after high profile blogger Derek Draper and special advisor Damian McBride discussed plans to smear Tories online with a website modelled on the right wing Guido Fawkes. (We need to be careful not to call Paul Staines, who authors Guido Fawkes, a Tory as it has been suggested that such a smear may be actionable.)
Ever the opportunist, Cameron has argued that Brown allowed a culture to develop whereby underhand smearing of opponents was seen as legitimate. In forcing an apology, Cameron suggests that Brown is responsible for supporters’ behaviour. It’s a dangerous path for any leader to tread. Every party has its mavericks and leaders cannot control them. Whether you are a blogger or a special advisor, these smear campaigns are wrong. They devalue politics and put people off voting altogether. Yet bloggers are effectively unsackable.
Given that the Draper/McBride project, was discussed as a response to the behaviour of Tory bloggers, Cameron is on particularly dangerous ground.
A couple of years ago I named and shamed Dominic Fisher as the author of PragueTory. Dominic Fisher had smeared a Labour councillor, attempting to brand him a racist, and promised to collect more ‘scalps’. Following his outing, Fisher’s blogging was substantially curtailed.
After Smeargate, this is how Labour should take on the Tories: Actively identify anonymous right-wing bloggers (by legal means, obviously), catalogue their most embarrassing outbursts, name and shame.
It’s hard to see how David Cameron would be able to control someone like Dominic Fisher who, ever the hypocrite, now argues for resignations. It is in the nature of things that a Tory blogger will mess up, just as this Labour blogger did.
Cameron can then be expected to take responsibility and show Brown how it’s done.