Martin Bright

Tribalism: The Curse of Labour

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The official line from Number 10 is that Damian McBride's emails were "juvenile and inappropriate" and that all staff will be reminded of the "appropriate" use of resources. Presumably they will also be reminded of how to be grown up.

It has been an open secret for some time that there has been mission creep from McBride's supposed backroom role. The formerly neutral Treasury civil servant was moved last October from his job as Gordon Brown's frontline spinner because some, including cabinet ministers, believed he had become a liability. But McBride is an obsessive texter and emailer and it seems he couldn't resist letting his fingers do the walking.

Regular readers of this blog may remember the text message I received from the Number 10 charmer after I reported that officials had been taking an interest in footage of Obama's televised apologies.

Chris Grayling was right this morning to point out that the senior team around Gordon Brown should have better things to do than send emails suggesting that it might be a good idea to smear Conservative politicians. It's tempting to say this sort of thing always goes on, but the point is not to get caught. However, there is a difference between the legitimate cut and thrust of the political and ideological battle and tribal dirty tricks, which is why Number 10 has been forced to issue a statement.

It may seem an odd thing for a Labour-supporting journalist to say, but tribalism could kill the Labour Party. One of the secrets of New Labour's early success was the recognition by those around Tony Blair (and that included Gordon Brown) that Conservatives - and certainly Conservative voters - are people too. When I suggested this on a panel at last year's Labour conference I was booed. At that point I knew it would be very difficult for the Labour Party to win the next election, not because it booed me I hasten to add, but because its activists had reverted to tribal type.