Just to clarify. I didn't intend to suggest in my last post that Damian McBride's smear tactics would have been excusable if they had worked. Sorry if I gave that impression. I was simply trying to explain the thinking behind the operation. The smears were unacceptable in any circumsatnces
The Prime Minister's belated apology suggests that he now knows how toxic this has become. He is right to be angry because McBride has put his government at the mercy of a maverick right-wing libertarian blogger. Quite why he and the people around him became quite so fixated on Paul Staines (aka Guido Fawkes), is completely beyond me.
But they were genuinely obsessed, that much is clear. And if Staines has further emails to drip feed he will be able to torment the government for some time yet.
Here are some points to consider while we wait to find out:
1. The Brownites' obsesssion with "Guido Fawkes" dates back to the campaign by him and fellow blogger Iain Dale to expose the activities of Gordon Brown's favourite think tank, the Smith Institute. At the time I happen to know that an anoymous note circulated among Smith Institute employees outlining allegations about Staines's past activities in right-wing student politics. I have always wondered where that note came from.
2. The Draper/McBride alliance has always been a strange one, bridging as it does the Blairite-Brownite chasm. It appears to mirror the new alliance between Peter Mandelson and Gordon Brown, but it is more complex and tortured even than that relationship. The close network around Mandelson that operated during the early years of New Labour, which included Derek Draper and Roger Liddle, was re-activated with his return to politics as a peer. But there is no reason to believe that the coalition with the Brown camp over the Red Rag blog is in any way robust. Why, for instance, was I being offered negative stories about key Brownites by Mandelson's allies during my final months as New Statesman political editor?
3. It is difficult to imagine how the Prime Minister will contain the maelstrom unleashed by Guido Fawkes. The damage to the political culture and lobby journalism in particular could be considerable. Tom Watson is a popular figure who has improved working relationships in the Cabinet Ofiice considerably, but is his position really sustainable? And where does Peter Mandelson stand in all this? If the Business Secretary had the slightest inkling of what was being hatched by his protege Draper, why did he not move to stop it? Could he survive any association with this affair? We are yet to discover the full implications for the journalists involved.