Friday, April 17, 2009
Smeargate was a car crash waiting to happen
So much for cartoonist Slob's take on "Smeargate." Do I share his sense of nausea at the Adoration of the Guido that has followed the RedRag scandal and the defenestration of Damian McBride? Well, up to a point I guess.
Paul Staines is at least right in his analysis of the Lobby, although the initial diagnosis that it had become part of a client media was not Guido's, but Peter Oborne's, in his brilliant book The Triumph of the Political Class.
I myself watched it happening from close quarters and it became very obvious fairly early in my Lobby career on that you could not expect to receive help and favours from the New Labour machine if you also insisted on telling it like it was for the benefit of the readers who paid your salary.
I made my bed, and although those contemporaries of mine who took the Campbell spin subsequently saw all sorts of exciting career doors opening to them, I have never once regretted the road I took.
That said, there is a central hypocrisy at the heart of the Guido version of history that should not be overlooked. In my relatively limited personal dealings with Paul Staines, I have always found him to be an okay bloke - he even bought me a drink once - but when it comes to smear campaigns against rival politicians, his blog is the last word.
Back in 2007, Guido spent months attempting to convince his blog's many readers that Gordon Brown had been photographed on a rocking horse wearing a nappy, and to utilise the power of search engine optimisation and Google to spread this ridiculous tale across the entire internet. It even made it onto Wikipedia, and when I tried to remove it, some patsy came along and reverted my edit.
He also gave house-room to a sock puppet called "Stanislav" who suggested, in one particularly disgusting post, that the Prime Minister had been steadily driven mad by the strain of repressing his "homosexuality" over many years - part of a deadly serious attempt by the right to fix the idea of Gordon as a "weirdo" in the public's mind.
None of this in any way excuses the suggestion that David Cameron is suffering from some embarassing health complaint. But it does put it into perspective, and should serve as a corrective to those tempted to hail Guido as the new conscience of British public life.
Labour of course should have risen above all this. Instead, it set up LabourList, bringing in Derek Draper as editor despite the fact that his previous spell as a NuLab adviser had ended in embarrassing circumstances for the government. It was, in short, a car crash waiting to happen.
I disliked the idea of LabourList from the start. I was in fact invited to attend one of the breakfast sessions, and would have gone if I had been in London and at a loose end, but the whole thing seemed to me to be built on two false premises - firstly, the Dale Hypothesis that all left-wing blogs are basically crap, and secondly the Guido Hypothesis that smearing one's political opponents is a legitimate purpose of political blogging.
In other words, Labour thought they needed a Guido-style "attack blog" to take the fight to the Tories, and they concluded that none of the existing left-of-centre blogs was up to the job.
Had the party not got the first of these questions so catastrophically wrong, it would have realised that instead of trying to impose its command-and-control approach on the blogosphere, it would have been better off discreetly encouraging some of the excellent, well-established left-of-centre blogs that were already out there.
In short, instead of listening to Dolly Draper, they should have listened to Sunny Hundal. His post on Liberal Conspiracy is the best defence I have thus far read of the left-of-centre blogosphere and why Labour would have been better tapping into that rather than attempting to out-Fawkes the Tories.
Then again, New Labour has been ignoring its own natural supporters and trying to mimic the Conservatives ever since it was invented, so we should probably not be that surprised.
Meanwhile the issue of "spin" has once again become the issue that defines New Labour, the single word that I suspect will be associated with the Blair-Brown government long after everything else it did has been forgotten.
And those of us who thought Gordon would put a stop to all this nonsense have suffered another, perhaps terminal, disillusionment.