Mr McBride and Mr Draper: but who let the cat out of the bag? With update 19.04.09

There’s mercifully little to add to the Canadian forests of newsprint and gigabytes of bandwidth devoted to this foolish and shameful caper in which a political adviser at No. 10 Downing Street and a former Labour Party spin doctor, now active, with others, on a pro-Labour blog, exchanged juvenile e-mails about the idea of a new left-wing blog designed to break the right-wing bloggers’ monopoly of scurrilous gossip about their political adversaries.  The plotters claim, reasonably credibly, to have abandoned the idea several weeks ago, but some of their e-mails fell into the hands of a notorious right-wing blogger, one Paul Staines, calling himself Guido Fawkes (Guido = Guy — geddit?) on his fairly unsavoury blog;  and the rest is history.

The collection of nasty personal smears, some against Tory politicians, some against their wives, despatched from the No. 10 adviser to the Labour blogger as possible material for the proposed new blog, gives off a foul smell. Its disclosure discredits the two foolish plotters, the Labour Party and the government.  It sheds a harsh light on Gordon Brown’s judgement of the kind of people he employs as advisers and of their more questionable activities on his behalf (it’s unlikely that he knew of these in detail, but he must have known in general terms of the kind of person Mr McBride was and how he conducted himself).  Derek Draper, the blogger, has apologised humbly and insists that the plan to publish the smear material had been abandoned weeks ago.  McBride has resigned from his No. 10 job, with similar apologies; his hitherto starry career is over, and he’s only in his 30s, so he has paid a high price for an act of spectacular and distasteful folly.

I can’t improve on a comment made by Paul Halsall (of the English Eclectic blog) on yet another blog, that of Tom Harris MP, and posted there today:

I think the actions of Draper and McBride are despicable, but it is Paul Staines [‘Guido Fawkes’] who has chosen to publish these letters for, as Iain Dale says, his “pleasure.” I don’t even see that this is especially bad for the government. It looks like cheap students politics on TV news – the more so whenever Draper or Staines speak – and it has taken attention away from Jacqui Smith’s expenses. I bet she loves Paul Staines just now!

Happy Easter to all.

A few points about this squalid story seem worth adding.

First, virtually all the smear stories sent privately as possible blog material by McBride to Draper are now in the public domain — in the newspapers and on radio and television, not just on an obscure and scurrilous blog — and causing real pain and embarrassment to their victims, at least one of whom is threatening legal action (against whom?).  And who was responsible for this widespread publication?  ‘Guido Fawkes’, who somehow got hold of copies of the e-mails, wrote about them on his blog and gave them to the newspapers (he denies having sold them), and the newspaper editors who have seen fit to reproduce the juiciest elements of them in extensive print while piously denouncing McBride and Draper for their wickedness in passing them from one to the other and daring to contemplate making them semi-public in a blog.  The Conservative Party leadership and the other victims of the smears must be very grateful to Guido/Paul and his right-wing media contacts for so enthusiastically exposing this muck to public view.

Secondly, Damian McBride — contrary to a lot of blogging and media reporting — was not a ‘civil servant’ at the time of his resignation: IOW, he was not a member of the Home Civil Service, subject to the civil service code of conduct which governs, among other things, party political activity[1].  He was a special political adviser appointed by the prime minister to do the kind of political work that civil servants can’t (and generally won’t) do.  McBride had been a civil servant in the past and was apparently still paid from public funds;  one lesson to be drawn from this and earlier similar escapades is surely that all these special advisers to ministers should be paid by the ministers’ party, not by the taxpayer.  (Wasn’t that the arrangement at one time?)  Draper neither was nor is a civil servant, either.  He was at one time a ministerial special adviser and press spokesman but he seems currently to have no formal position in relation either to the government or to the Labour Party.  Demands for his ‘dismissal’ or ‘resignation’ accordingly seem nugatory.

Thirdly, it looks from the account of the smears in at least one of today’s Sunday papers as if at least some of them were extrapolated from established fact.  In other words, not all of them were necessarily or entirely fictional.  To say that is not to condone their public dissemination:  they will have been even more damaging and distressing if partly or wholly true.

And fourthly, the clandestine (or, often, open) spreading of smears and smut to the disadvantage of one’s political opponents is as old as politics itself.  On top of this, using ministerial party bag-carriers to ‘brief’ against members of one’s own side has become common practice at least since Mrs Thatcher’s premiership and probably long before that.  The disclosure of scandal has been used to destroy political careers, or at least to damage them, from time immemorial.  William Hague’s demand on television this evening that steps must be taken to ensure that the current departure from virtue “never happens again” is frankly fatuous, and he knows it.  As the distinguished columnist and political writer Alan Watkins used to say, politics is a rough old trade.  To feign horror and outrage when the seamy side of politics occasionally surfaces, before diving again into the murky depths, is sheer hypocrisy;  actually to be horrified suggests an innocence amounting to disqualification from meaningful comment.

Paul Halsall, quoted approvingly above, is probably right to suppose that all this is of much less interest or concern to the man (or woman) on the Clapham Omnibus than to the frenzied denizens of the Westminster Village.  It will no doubt soon be largely, but not completely, forgotten: just one more nail in the coffin of Gordon Brown’s reputation.  It won’t lose him the forthcoming general election because he has precious little chance of winning it anyway.

Meanwhile the 95 per cent of the citizenry who very sensibly can’t be bothered to read the small print, or who gain a vague impression of what’s going on from the muddled and inaccurate accounts by self-appointed experts on television, will blithely assume that Gordon Brown’s “attack dogs”, “practitioners of the dark arts”, and other time-expired clichés, have been exposed as spinners of public lies designed to discredit Labour’s enemies, the Tories.  Few will stop to wonder why it was actually the bloggers and newspapers of the political right, the Tories’ natural allies, who worked so hard to ensure that such damaging smears and allegations against their own side were hustled into the public domain.  To quote Alan Watkins again (and this time Margaret Thatcher too), it’s a funny old world.

[1] Update 1: on McBride’s formal status in No. 10 Downing Street, please now see the correction in Owen Barder’s helpful and important comment below, and my response appended to it.

Update 2 (19 April 09)Today’s Sunday Times carries the following confession in small print at the foot of page 2 (the Web version incorporates it, almost invisibly, into the end of the body of the article):

A complaint about last week’s coverage of the Damian McBride affair was made by Frances Osborne to the Press Complaints Commission. That complaint was resolved after The Sunday Times agreed not to republish Mr McBride’s untrue smears in relation to Mrs Osborne and to remove specific references to them from our website.

(Mrs Osborne is of course the wife of the Conservative Shadow Chancellor.)  How strange that the action of the Sunday Times (and the News of the World, both Murdoch newspapers) in publishing these libellous smears, and of Guido Fawkes in providing the text of the smears to those newspapers with the intention of getting them published, should have virtually escaped public censure, while McBride and Draper, who never published any of them, nor passed them to others for publication, have been subjected to more public obloquy than anyone since Jack the Ripper!  It would have been perfectly legitimate to report the story about McBride’s and Draper’s plan to use a website for gossip designed to discredit leading Tories, and to describe (without naming or identifying the intended victims) the kind of repulsive smears they had contemplated posting in it:  but to publish those smears in such detail, naming the unfortunate Mrs Osborne and other putative victims, was every bit as reprehensible as the action planned, but never taken, by McBride and Draper.  The jackals of the press and the brave commentariat are presumably no longer afraid of McBride — now that he has resigned — but remain as scared of Mr Murdoch and his rags of newspapers as ever.


16 Responses

  1. Owen Barder says:

    I don’t think that you are right on your second point.  Special Advisers are temporary civil servants. The code of conduct for special advisers says:

    “Special advisers are temporary civil servants appointed under Article 3 of the Civil Service Order in Council 1995. They are exempt from the general requirement that civil servants should be appointed on merit and behave with impartiality and objectivity so that they may retain the confidence of future governments of a different political complexion. They are otherwise required to conduct themselves in accordance with the Civil Service Code.”

    The code also says:

    “Special advisers must not take public part in political controversy whether in speeches or letters to the Press, or in books, articles or leaflets; must observe discretion and express comment with moderation, avoiding personal attacks; and would not normally speak in public for their Minister or the Department.”

    Brian writes: I am very grateful for this important correction and have added an appropriate footnote to my post. The second extract from the Special Advisers’ Code that you quote strongly suggests that Mr McBride has long been in flagrant breach of that Code and that until now he has breached it with impunity. Who is supposed to monitor observance of this special Code and discipline those who breach it? The Head of the Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet? If so, what has he been doing about the McBride operation? If not, who? These questions seem to me to require answers. On the technical question of McBride’s formal status, I of course accept that I was wrong to write that he had not been ‘a civil servant’; but the relevant point — that (contrary to much blogging and MSM comment) he was not an ordinary member of the Home Civil Service, and that he was not subject to all the constraints on party political activity imposed on ordinary civil servants — is confirmed, not contradicted, by your helpful comment.

    Meanwhile today’s (Mon. 13 Apr.) press, radio and television commentaries almost all continue to fulminate against McBride and Draper as if it was they who had published the disgraceful smears, despite the unarguable fact that they hadn’t. The Guardian’s lead story, by Nicholas Watt, even goes so far as to accuse Derek Draper of attempting “to blacken the name of Guido Fawkes, the blogger who uncovered [the emails containing the smears]”, when ‘Guido Fawkes’ more than any other individual bears the responsibility for bringing the smears into the public domain: yet Fawkes, or more properly Paul Staines, his real name, has so far apparently escaped censure for his reckless and unscrupulous act. He could easily have exposed the unsavoury plan hatched up by McBride and Draper — but never carried out — without making public the grubby details of the individual smears; but he chose to arrange to have them published in every sordid detail. McBride and Draper deserve all the obloquy they’re getting for conceiving their nasty little plot, but Staines deserves even more for carrying it out.

    Finally, Jackie Ashley’s column (“Gordon Brown’s vicious side is now clear to the whole country”), also in today’s Guardian, is absolutely required reading for all students of the Gordon Brown phenomenon.

  2. Brian,

    I can’t accept your sharp criticism of Guido F here.  Pushing these grisly emails to full public attention was probably the only way to force McBride out of his publicly funded job and embarrass the Labour hierarchy into thinking about behaving themselves.. 

    Look at it as a former civil servant yourself. We have a top adviser in No 10 paid from public funds, using a publicly funded office/computer etc to produce vicious texts aimed at smearing opponents, and done in way which insults gays, people with mental illness and the rest (so much for Labour’s commitment to Diversity). We then have assorted phoney apologists for the PM saying that he has been shocked at all this and expresses regret. 

    When you were running an Embassy I would have had some sympathy if a lowly member of staff had behaved in a repulsive way and you had argued that you as Ambassador should not be held responsible for everything any wayward staff member did. 

    But when a staff member specifically brought in by you at the top level and with privileged access to your counsels acts like this, you surely have to carry heavy responsibility for your own rotten judgement, even if you did not know what he/she was doing. That’s what responsibility means.

    In short, this vile lapse of elementary judgement and good sense (not to mention the sheer stupidity of trying to set up a top-down blog to put out these rumours) is a ruinous development for the Labour Party leadership right to the top, as even the Guardian columnists grasp. And insofar as it has taken G Fawkes to bring the whole squalid business to our attention, thank goodness for him and for the freedom of the individual against corrupt use of state power which on this occasion he boldly represents. 

    As for McBride’s status, he was paid from public funds and not by the Labour Party. So as Owen points out, he was substantively subject to most norms of good sense and self-restraint which the rest of the Civil Service is expected to uiphold. You are quite right to ask why he has not been investigated and disciplined long before for his evident abuse of his public position – again, another dismal failing which heads straight to the PM himself.

    Brian writes: Thanks for this, Charles. I agree with almost everything you say. Nothing that I wrote above condones or excuses the tawdry actions of McBride and Draper. I entirely agree that Gordon Brown has to accept responsibility for what McBride was doing, in general terms if not in detail: he knows perfectly well what kind of operation McBride has been running and by failing to stop it he was effectively allowing it, even encouraging it. Anyway the head of any organisation should take responsibility for everything done on his or her behalf: if you don’t know broadly what your own staff are doing, you aren’t doing your job; and anyway a responsible leader transmits to his/her staff a sense of what’s acceptable and what’s not. The growing refusal of ministers to resign over the disasters perpetrated by their departments on the grounds that they hadn’t known anything about them is a dreadful indictment and has largely destroyed the vital principle of ministerial responsibility. The answer to “I didn’t know so I’m not responsible” should always be: “Well, you should have known, and the buck stops with you whether you knew or not; and if you didn’t know, you’re doubly condemned.” In other words, I’m entirely with you on all that.

    The simple point I make, which is really one of fact rather than of opinion, is that neither McBride nor Draper leaked the squalid smears to the newspapers (and to the rest of the blogosphere), and that it was Paul Staines (G Fawkes) who did, but that so far he has almost entirely escaped public censure for that shameful act. I don’t for a moment accept your point that exposing the McBride-Draper plan required wide dissemination of every last detail of the smears they were collecting (but never used). A description of the kind of smear material they were sending each other, without identifying the putative victims’ names, where necessary changing the details so that names could not be deduced, would have done the job just as effectively and would have spared those concerned a lot of pain. But Mr Staines’s blog has shown little sensitivity about other people’s feelings in the past and he seems on this occasion to have had no hesitation in feeding the right-wing Sunday newspapers’ insatiable appetite for prurient revelations, both true and false, about other people’s private lives.

    The worst offence that has been committed in this affair has clearly been the public leaking of disgusting smears. McBride and Draper did not commit that offence. Staines did. But you’d never know it from the pious condemnations of the former all over the media and from the mouthier pols, combined with an eerie silence over the role of the latter. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised at the reluctance of the worst newspaper editors to bite the grimy hand that has just so generously fed them.

    PS: This from the horse’s mouth:

    Stephen Pound says Guido is laughing all the way to the bank – actually Guido gave the story to the News of the World and the Sunday Times for pleasure not profit.

    [Guido Fawkes, post of 11 April 09:

  3. Guido Fawkes says:

    My judgement was to not publish the contents.  The newspaper’s judgement was different.

    Doesn’t that rather undermine the whole thrust of your argument?

    Brian writes: ‘Guido’, I appreciate this new and unexpected information from, as it were, the horse’s mouth. But no, it in no way undermines my argument. You had a simple way to ensure that the contents of the emails and the names of those being smeared would not be published, if that was your judgement: you didn’t need to pass those details and names to the Sunday Times and the News of the World (or any other print organs). A full description of the kind of material the emails contained, without naming names, would have been quite enough, as indeed your own preference at the time confirms. Once those two Murdoch organs got the details and names from you, it must have been obvious that they would publish them. We all have to take responsibility for the predictable consequences of our actions, don’t we? The plain fact remains that whatever your ‘judgement’ might have preferred, you gave all the personal stuff to the newspapers and neither McBride nor Draper did.

  4. Patrick says:

    To correct your first point it is now becoming apparent that the smears relating to Nadine Dorries had been released to some of the national press: 'she was called last year by journalists seeking to substantiate the smears against her’, according to Guido Fawkes.

    The substantive content of the emails have not been released to the public but the blogs have done great service by exposing how mucky this practice of spin has become.  If, because of this latest scandal, the next government takes heed and reigns in the SpAd/Spin system then we will benefit for what is happening now.

    Brian writes: Unless you have credible evidence (and I would not regard an uncorroborated assertion by ‘Guido Fawkes’ as credible evidence) that the earlier smears against Mrs Dorries emanated from McBride or Draper, your point is a comment, not a correction. My understanding is that the unfortunate Mrs Dorries has been the victim of scurrilous gossip and innuendo in the Westminster (and media and blogospere) hothouse for many months, possibly years. This kind of thing goes on all the time, as we all know. McBride and Draper are, or were, just two among numerous possible sources of personal poison being spread around by malicious people doing their masters’ dirty work on all points of the political compass, a process as old as politics and certain to continue into the indefinite future.

  5. Patrick says:


    ‘…and I would not regard an uncorroborated assertion by ‘Guido Fawkes’ as credible evidence’

    Guido Fawkes was reporting what Nadine Dorries has said on several interviews throughout the weekend and continues to do so today.  When assessing the veracity of such claims, who has been shown to be correct so far?  Those sinned against or the sinners?

    The behaviour of those around the Prime Minister, appointed by him and working in the closest physical proximity if recent photographs of ‘the bunker’ are correct, is despicable.

    The proverb that follows has never been more apt:

    ‘You may judge a man by the company he keeps.’

    Brian writes: I’m afraid that you have misread my earlier response. I am not for a moment questioning the assertion that unpleasant smears have been swirling around Mrs Dorries for some time. Nor do I defend the prime minister against the charge of having been responsible for continuing to employ Mr McBride in the full knowledge of the kind of operation he was running, even if he didn’t know in detail about the specific emails to Draper; indeed, I have written at length in this blog (e.g. here) about the need for the head of an outfit such as No. 10 to accept responsibility for what his staff is doing, to make it his business to know what they are doing, and to get rid of those on his staff who fail to live up to the standards he should have set.

    None of this affects the question that I asked you. You are challenging my assertion that neither McBride nor Draper released to the newspapers for publication the smears in the private emails they had been exchanging, whereas Paul Staines (‘Guido Fawkes’) by his own admission did just that. I asked what credible evidence you have that either McBride or Draper had made public the smears against Mrs Dorries that were circulating well before the McBride emails. I don’t know whether Mr Staines alleges that McBride or Draper had passed any of this material to the newspapers before, during or after exchanging their grubby emails, but if he does, it would be helpful if he could produce corroborative evidence. Until someone produces such evidence, McBride and Draper are clearly entitled to the presumption of innocence of the charge of having deliberately put the smears in their emails into the public domain, as Mr Staines undoubtedly did.

  6. Tim Weakley says:

    Damn, I clicked on Submit to send a comment and found the dial-up connection had been broken.  If I repeat myslef, apologies!
    What sort of political advice worth hearing are the Drapers and McBrides supposed to give?  They are not senior professors of politics or political historians capable of counselling against the repetition of past mistakes, and of commenting on the short- and long-term effects of policies.  They are not senior party members, in or outside Parliament, capable of commenting on what will play well out in the sticks – indeed, why not consult the constituents themselves?  They are merely unscupulous young men, inexperienced in everything except for the use of electronic sources of communication for manipulation and for the dissemination of disinformation and malicious misinformation; in fact, they are the Government’s Black Propaganda Department and should be referred to as such, particularly by the media.

    Brian writes: Tim, thanks. As ministers sometimes say when they don’t know the answers, “These questions are not for me.” McBride had of course been a fairly senior and experienced Treasury civil servant and later Broon’s press spokesman; Draper was a special adviser and later, I think, a ‘lobbyist’. McBride seems to have been generally respected as a competent, clever and on occasion helpful G Brown spin doctor, but not much liked. He seems to have fitted quite neatly into the line of succession from Joe Haines, Bernard Ingham and Alastair Campbell (although Campbell quite convincingly dissociates himself from the rest of the galère). All four of their prime ministers (Wilson, Thatcher, Blair, Brown) obviously knew what kind of bullying operation their press secretaries were running and it has suited them all to keep the telescopes to the blind eyes. ‘Deniability’ is the name of the somewhat disreputable game.

  7. Brian,
    The story is becoming a bit tedious. After all, most if not all of the tittle-tattle Guido got his hands on was already out there. The Osborne/Cameron Eton/Uni days have been given a thorough going-over.
    What interests me is just how Guido managed to get his mits on the e-mails. I think it unlikely — nearing  impossible — hacking into the Downing St. computer isn’t a runner.
    Cui bono?


    Brian writes: Tony, I very much agree. Derek Draper of course says he suspects that his computer might have been hacked into, and that wouldn’t be a Downing Street machine. But apparently McBride or Draper inexplicably copied the e-mail or e-mails to a couple of other recipients in a trade union, including the ever colourful Charlie Whelan, so the messages might have been leaked from there by some enemy of McBride, Draper, Whelan, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Mrs Dorries…. But we can’t realistically ask the egregious Mr Fawkes — or even Mr Staines — to reveal his source. Or rather we can ask him, but we can’t realistically expect him to give us the answer.

    I remain bewildered by the blizzard of sententious condemnation continuing to rain down on the heads of McBride-Draper for what they planned to do but didn’t, with none to spare for Mr Staines, the guy who actually did the leaking!

  8. Brian,


    The person who ‘actually ‘did the first leaking was not Guido, but someone (probably) within the Labour elite who got hold of these emails and passed them to Guido for goodness knows what reason. Guido (as he himself says above) used his judgement not to publish them.

    You write: We all have to take responsibility for the predictable consequences of our actions, don’t we?

    Indeed. It therefore follows that the overwhelming moral and political responsibility in this case lies with the person currently i/c No 10 who hired McBride, and then with McBride himself for (a) concocting this rubbish then (b) pressing Send. Everything else is basically beside the point.

    Your persisting bewilderwment on the subject of Guido’s so-called responsibility in this grisly saga comes from your endearing inability to see that you have lost this one hands down. Sorry, but there it is!


    Brian writes: Charles, I really admire your ingenuity. I have replied at length to the same points you have made on your own blog, and needn’t gum up the bandwidth by repeating it all over again here. Those still interested can see my refutation of your intriguing but manifestly perverse thesis here (my Comment on the post entitled “The McBride Saga: Who Is Responsible For What?”) .

  9. Brian,

    I simply do not believe the source of the leak was a hack into Dolly’s computer. Had it been the case, he would taken steps to report the matter to Knacker. After all this is a serious and embarrassing crime that could easily be solved.
    No, I tend to Mr Crawford’s view that the e-mails were leaked from within the NuLabour to cause further problems for Broon.
    And if that’s right, those who leaked to Guido, must have been aware that the emails would become public.


    Brian writes: Tony, I agree that hacking, suggested by Draper himself, is probably the least likely explanation for the leaking of the McBride-Draper emails to Guido Fawkes, so-called. Much likelier seemed to me this speculation in Monday’s Guardian:

    …some Labour sources were pointing the finger at the Unite trade union which is riven by splits. Charlie Whelan, the union’s political director who is a former Brown aide, was copied into the email, as was his aide Andrew Dodgshon. There is no suggestion that either of them leaked the emails, but there is a suspicion that one of Whelan’s many enemies in the union may have. One Unite source said: “There is no shortage of people who would be prepared to leak those emails. People are queueing up to punch Charlie’s lights out.”

    I can’t imagine what possessed either McB or DD to copy this explosive material to anyone in a trade union, however estimable, when it can surely be assumed that a trade union official’s computer is likely to have minimal security protection. The Unite website shows that Whelan, the union’s National Political Director, has a PA and a staff of nine others, just in the union’s political department. There are probably dozens more again who might easily have noticed the fatal e-mail on Whelan’s or Dodgshon’s screen, any one of whom might have thought it would be amusing to forward it to Guido Fawkes — quite likely assuming that bits of it would duly appear on Fawkes’s blog but hardly dreaming that Fawkes would pass the whole thing on to two Murdoch Sunday papers which in turn would publish the lot. Cock-up is generally the better hypothesis than conspiracy, although in this sorry case either is clearly possible.

    PS: There’s more about Andrew Dodgshon, who with Charlie Whelan received copies of the McB-DD emails at their Unite union office, here.

  10. John Miles says:

    I’ve read someone, somewhere compare Mr Brown’s behaviour to that of a sinking ship leaving a rat.

    You say, “I would not regard an uncorroborated assertion by ‘Guido Fawkes’ as credible evidence.”
    Yet you seem quite happy to accept Mr Draper’s uncorroborated, unfalsifiable assertion that at some unspecified time Mr McBride and he decided, of thei own free will, not to go ahead with what they’d plotted.
    I’m just as sceptical about these two slithy toves as you are about Guido Fawkes, and think it was most likely being found out which caused them to change their minds.
    “I regret the 0.1% of my time that I spent thinking about how we might set up a separate left wing “gossipy” site”
    This means less than five minutes of every eighty hours of Mr Draper’s working week.

    And what about Mr Draper’s lunch with Mr Brown?
    As a son of the manse Mr Brown must surely know that Evil Communications Corrupt Good Manners.

    And isn’t it time Graceless Gordon learnt to say Thank You?
    However much you may dislike Guido Fawkes, or his motives or politics, the fact remains that he’s done Mr Brown a really good turn by alerting him to the presence of a sewer rat – or very likely a colony of sewer rats –  in the prime minister’s kitchen.
    Common sense is not Mr Brown’s most obvious forte, and I doubt if he woud ever have found this out on his own.

    Oh what a lovely can of worms!

    Brian writes: John, for once you have misrepresented me by selective quotation and unwarranted inference. I wrote: “Unless you have credible evidence (and I would not regard an uncorroborated assertion by ‘Guido Fawkes’ as credible evidence) that the earlier smears against Mrs Dorries emanated from McBride or Draper…” This was far from being a general comment on Guido Fawkes’s overall credibility, on which I make no comment at all. You claim that I “dislike Guido Fawkes”, but you have no basis for such an allegation: I neither like nor dislike him, not least because I don’t know him and so far as I know have never met him. Nor, contrary to what you say, do I either accept or reject Draper’s claim that he and McBride had decided not to go ahead with the gossipy blog project. Whether that claim is true or not is beside the point that I have been making. I merely observe the easily verified fact that neither of them published the smear material (either on a blog or by giving it to the newspapers to publish), whereas Guido Fawkes/Paul Staines did. It’s obvious to me, and I would have thought to any fair-minded person, that this makes Mr Staines’s behaviour significantly more reprehensible than either McBride’s or Draper’s, so far as this particular episode is concerned.

    Of course Mr McBride’s general behaviour over a long period in relation to the media, with much alleged bullying, smearing, spinning, victimising, etc., may for all I know have been more reprehensible still. But that’s another matter entirely, on which I have no view apart from suspicion based on the allegations of third parties.

  11. RJ Harte says:

    Mr Barder

    I like your blog and the fact that you respond to comments.  To keep up your good form, you should really either (a) answer Mr Crawford’s point with some form of compelling argument or (b) admit his point.  I suspect that Guido may by now have a readership similar to that of some national newspapers. There’s no shame in getting something wrong and admitting it.

    RJ Harte 

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. I thought, and think, that I had adequately answered Charles Crawford’s point in the response I posted on his own blog, quoted with a hyperlink in my reply to his similar comment on this one: see

    In short, the question at issue is: who bears the main responsibility for the publication in two national newspapers (followed, inevitably, by most of the rest) of the repulsive smears against leading Tories and in some cases their wives, causing those named by the newspapers intense pain and embarrassment?

    The bulk of media and blogosphere comment has placed virtually all the blame on Messrs McBride and Draper, despite the indisputable fact that neither of them published, or arranged the publication of, a single word of the smears, whatever their original intentions might have been.

    Charles Crawford places the principal blame on whoever leaked the McBride-Draper private e-mails to Guido Fawkes/Paul Staines on the grounds that in view of Mr Staines’s record of ‘publishing’ leaked material on his blog, passing information to him was tantamount to publishing it in the newspapers. Mr Crawford moreover attributes responsibility for passing the e-mails to Mr Staines to a “person somewhere in the Labour elite who somehow made sure that they found their way to Guido”, although as far as I’m aware there’s no evidence for the assertion that the information came from anyone in the “Labour elite”. Mr Crawford’s position seems to me untenable because whoever leaked the e-mails to Mr Staines can’t have known what he would do with them, nor in particular whether anything he published on his blog or via the print media would actually identify by name those smeared by the accusations and imputations.

    It seems to me beyond serious dispute that the main responsibility for ensuring the publication in the print media on a national scale of the full material, including individual names, clearly rests with Mr Staines (Guido Fawkes), who by his own account chose to give the smear material to two Murdoch newspapers with the express intention that it should be published, and in the knowledge that its publication would include the names of the victims (although also by his own admission his own preference — “judgement” — would have been not to publish the names; but he allowed his judgement to be overruled by that of the newspapers concerned).

    In other words, Mr Staines had several options on receiving the e-mails: the most obvious ones being two — either to publish the story on his blog and through the newspapers but without naming those smeared, and if necessary editing the material so that the identity of those smeared could not be inferred; or else to give the whole lot to the newspapers, names and all, in the knowledge that it would all be published. Either alternative would have achieved the one legitimate objective — to expose the kind of disreputable smear tactics being employed by a group close to Gordon Brown and operating at the heart of government. The first alternative would have achieved this without causing pain and personal damage to those smeared. Mr Staines, despite his better judgement, chose the second alternative, and thereby took precisely the disreputable action which McBride and Draper had contemplated but which they had never actually taken.

    Who was mainly to blame for this cruel and unnecessary public humiliation and smearing of named individuals? Not McBride or Draper, obviously. Not the unknown person who for whatever reason gave the material to Staines, who can’t have known for sure how it would be handled. Those primarily responsible for the publication were Mr Staines, the Sunday Times and the News of the World.

    All this seems to me so mind-bogglingly obvious that I can only applaud the ingenuity of those who devise even semi-plausible arguments for disputing it.

    Well, you asked me to respond, so I have done so, for the umpteenth time. It must, I fear, also be the last.

  12. John Miles says:

    The only real point of disagreement between us is that I think your judgment – “reasonably credibly” — about the Draper and McBride’s claim to have voluntarily abandoned their plot was much too gullibly charitable. I tried to make this point by contrasting it with your praiseworthy – in my opinion – scepticism about Guido’s “uncorroborated assertion.”

    I never meant to say you didn’t like Guido Fawkes, though I admit I don’t think you’ve got much more time for him than I have myself.
    What I should have said is, “However much ONE may dislike Guido Fawkes, or his motives or politics, the fact remains that…”
    But “one” makes me feel uncomfortable, as if I fancied myself, or had ideas above my station.
    The Royal One, “One’s husband and One,” and all that.
    Putting it another way, my point was simply this:
    Love him or loathe him, we all, and particularly Mr Brown, should be grateful to Guido for telling us that Number Ten’s kitchen was simply crawling with vermin.
    Without the help of Guido, or someone like him, I doubt if Mr Brown would never have found this out for himself, and I doubt if we would either.

    What do you make of Mr Brown’s apology/
    An apology for an apology?
    He says he’s sorry “about what happened,” very much as I might be sorry your trip to the seaside was ruined by the weather, or the horse you backed came in last.
    He doesn’t actually apologize for anything he’s done, or failed to do.
    He goes on to say, “I take full responsibility for what happened. That’s why the person who was responsible went immediately.”
    It’s difficult to see how both these statements can be 100% true.

  13. RJ Harte says:

    Dear Mr Barder

    Thank you for taking trouble to respond to me in such detail.  I understand that you are probably fed up with this but I think you are missing a trick, which is not your style, and you migt want to give it one further thought.  In your response to my question you say in closing:

    “Who was mainly to blame for this cruel and unnecessary public humiliation and smearing of named individuals? Not McBride or Draper, obviously. Not the unknown person who for whatever reason gave the material to Staines, who can’t have known for sure how it would be handled. Those primarily responsible for the publication were Mr Staines, the Sunday Times and the News of the World. ”

    Sure, the publication was by the papers and it seems G Fawkes gave the story to the papers.  However, how can you say that “the unknown person who for whatever reason gave the material to Staines, [..] can’t have known for sure how it would be handled” and was not to blame for the publication?  What on earth do you think that person thought would happen – that Fawkes would shred it and forget it?  If that person is innocent by thinking that disclosure to GF would not result in wider disclosure, surely one can argue that Fawkes “can’t have known for sure how it would be handled” when he gave it to the papers.

    Thanks for your time and considered thinking.  Trusting that you will think about this

    RJ Harte

    Brian writes: I appreciate your courtesy, which compels me to break my resolution and to respond. Just to repeat two points in reply, which I have already tried to make, evidently without sufficient clarity:

    1. I have not said that whoever leaked the smear e-mails to Staines bears no responsibility at all for the publication in the print media of the full smears, names and all. I merely say that the main responsibility for that belongs to Staines and the two newspapers.

    2. The leaker to Staines had no way of knowing whether Staines would (a) be content to put an account of the emails, with or without naming the intended victims of the smears, on his blog, and leave it at that; or (b) give (or sell) an account of the affair to the newspapers, without naming those who were proposed to be smeared, in order to expose the dirty tricks being either practised or planned in the heart of No. 10; or (c) give the full texts, including the victims’ names, to the newspapers, thus taking the obnoxious action at one time contemplated but never actually taken by McBride and Draper. Staines has said that his own judgement favoured (b), which would have been perfectly legitimate. But he yielded to the newspapers’ preference for (c), which was a base and unconscionable choice, when he could have insisted on (b) (by himself withholding the names of the victims). The responsibility for that deplorable choice can only rest with Staines and the two newspapers. Whoever gave him the e-mails has a secondary share of the responsibility, since (c) must have been an obvious possible outcome, although by no means a certain one. But the primary responsibility manifestly belongs to the person who made the choice among the three options, and chose — or allowed himself to be pressured into choosing — the worst.

    And that really is my last, final, ultimate word on the subject. If you or other critics of my simple proposition still can’t see it, so be it!

  1. 13 April, 2009

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