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The UK Government versus The Bloggers

Sleaze, emails and people close to the Prime Minister
Sunday 12 April 2009.

If you live outside the UK, you may not be aware of the current headline news stories about some pretty nasty goings on close to the very heart of the British government.

In short, it concerns some squalid emails passed between a certain Damian McBride and a blogger named Derek Draper. Mr McBride is (or rather was until he speedily resigned yesterday) a publically-funded government adviser with close connections to the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. Derek Draper claims to be an independent left-wing (Labour) blogger who comments on the political scene without taking instructions or contributions from the British Labour party.

In other words, he is a left-leaning counterpart to right-leaning bloggers such as Iain Dale and Paul Staines, otherwise known as ‘Guido Fawkes’. In fact, Staines and Draper have crossed swords a few times in their blogs and on TV. One gets the strong impression that they don’t much like one another.

Staines has previously challenged Draper’s claim to be truly independent and has suggested that, on the contrary, Draper’s blog is guided from on high by people in the ruling Labour party. Yesterday, Staines produced some evidence for these claims - he had somehow managed to obtain emails passed from government adviser, Damian McBride, to the ‘independent’ blogger, Derek Draper, making suggestions for stories which Draper might like to publish on a web site designed to undermine the opposition Conservative party.

That alone would have been bad enough. What is worse is that the stories suggested by McBride were rather a long way from the kind of well-argued political analysis one might expect from one of the Prime Minister’s top advisers. Among the suggestions were that Draper should run completely unfounded stories suggesting that the leader of the Conservative opposition had suffered from embarrassing sexually transmitted diseases while the Conservative shadow chancellor, George Osborne, had had sex with a prostitute and posed for photographs “in a bra, knickers and suspenders” and “with his face ‘blacked up’ ”.

Draper responded: ““Absolutely totally brilliant Damian. I’ll think about timing and sort out the technology this week so we can go as soon as possible.”

I won’t go over the full sordid details of the emails. You can read more on the story in today’s Sunday Times. What I find most bizarre about all this (and there are plenty of bizarre things to choose from!) is not the childishly nasty nature of the stories which Mr McBride and Mr Draper were discussing in their emails but the mindboggling stupidity of anyone who believes that a scandal-mongering political website concocted by Labour spin-doctors had the remotest chance of not being found out!

This demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of how the Internet operates, I think. Politicians may have been rather good at exerting their influence over the conventional press. But how naive and foolish they look when they let themselves loose on the Internet!

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