If, like most sensible human beings, you haven't been following the Derek Draper/Guido Fawkes/Damian McBride story, I can hardly blame you. The Guardian has a useful summary and timeline here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/apr/14/damian-mcbride-email-smears-row1 A while back, though, I promised to write a little bit about the Labour party - so this seems like a good chance.
On some levels, I feel a certain amount of pity for Draper and McBride here - after all, the (trulyoffensive and wrong-headed) e-mails were intended to be private. They were batting around ideas the stupidity and suicidal nature of which must have become eminently clear to them long before the leak, since the "Red Rag" site was never created and the false rumors never circulated.
Why, then has the media and the opposition clamped their jaws around this incident like determined pit bulls?
Well for two reasons - the same to reasons that Labour looks increasingly unlikely to win the next general election.
1) No one seems to know what principles Labour stands for anymore.
2) No one seems to be leading Labour as a party.
If I told you nothing other than those two facts, plus the inevitability of a general election next year, by a process of scientific deduction you could surely distill the likelihood that the party would revert to attack politics in the hopes that might get them through. (And incdientally, the argument that "Right Wing Bloggers Say Mean Things About Labour" will not earn you a get out of jail free card on this. If you don't know why, go away and think about it, then come back to me.)
The media had already diagnosed the disease, so they were on the lookout for the symptom - so many of the stories dominating the headlines right now are really thinly disguised fin de siecle stories.
Expenses fiddling? It's about forgetting what you stand for.
Infighting? It's about leaderlessness.
And the rot goes deep - it's deeply felt in the party's most loyal activists, who are angry, disillusioned, frustrated and desperate for leadership. For many, it was the war in Iraq that first gave them that hollow feeling - the empty sense that their party no longer stands for them. For others, it's been the steady erosion of civil liberties. For some, the disastrous decision to scrap the 10P tax rate (if Labour's for raising taxes on the poorest workers it's hard to think of a core principle left).
Is it too late to pull out of these doldrums, this morass, this deadly lethargy?
Maybe not. There's only one certain cure I know for such catastrophic flailing.
Leadership. Specifically, bold leadership. Someone needs to draw a firm, clear line under all these petty failings and launch the ship towards some uncharted waters.
Gordon Brown, that's your cue.
If I were you, I'd start with an apology. It would might go a little bit like this:
"I didn't write the e-mails in question, I didn't receive them, and I didn't even know about them until the rest of the world did. But I can't say that personally I did nothing wrong here.
I was in the wrong. I was wrong, as the leader of this Party, to allow anyone in my employment for one moment to believe that we would want to win in this way.
Let me correct that error right now. This Party cares about this country. We seek to maintain our majority in the next election, of course. But even more than that we seek to deserve it.
Personal attacks, smears, lies, and innuendo have no place in this Party. They have no place in our politics. The challenges that we face are too great, the moment is too important, for pettiness, viciousness or games.
To every member of this party, those who canvass in rain and cold, those who have kept faith with us through the darkest days, I apologise that your leaders have not always lived up to the example that you set for us.
And to all Britons, I promise you this: that in the coming year we will never again forget that your needs are more important than ours."