Circular running torpedo

British blogger Guido Fawkes has broken the story of an attempt by British Labor operatives to smear political rivals and their wives by circulating 'salacious' emails on their private lives. It has already led to the dismissal of one of Gordon's Brown's men and is now being called the moment the British blogosphere came of age.

Mr McBride used a Downing Street email address to write a series of scurrilous and untrue stories about Conservatives including David Cameron, the Tory leader, and George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, with the intention that they should appear on a political blog. Mr Cameron has demanded a personal apology from Mr Brown.

Downing Street attempted to draw a line under the affair when it insisted that Mr McBride was the only person in the Government involved.

David Cameron let it be known that he was "furious" about the smear operation. The Conservatives said Mr Brown must make a public apology for the actions of his aides. ...

But the partial publication of the emails, which were obtained by Guido Fawkes, a political blogger, raised fresh questions about who else might have known about the proposed smear campaign, yesterday.

British blog Samizdata explains the scandal for those who are unfamiliar (as I am) with the twists and turns of British politics. "A certain Damian McBride has "resigned" because of some emails about smearing various Conservatives that he sent to another Labourite, the widely despised Derek Draper, who tries to blog for Labour. Blogger Guido Fawkes is being credited with this outcome, not least by the guilty men themselves. They have spent much airtime today jabbering away on Sky News, the BBC, etc, about how "disgusted" they are that their emails have been read. Disgusted that they were caught was how it sounded."

The moment is being compared to the fall of Dan Rather. "Remember that big cheese TV guy in America who got caught making use of a forged letter that said something bad about someone, and remember how it was bloggers who blew the story to bits. And remember how people said during all that that this was blogging really making itself felt for the first time in real world politics. Well, that moment just happened here in little old Britain. Tomorrow, this will be all over the Sunday papers. Guido's face and Guido's blog - the actual blog, how it looks - is being flashed all over the TV news as I write this."

Certain operatives were allegedly going to leak the story to Derek Draper, though perhaps "plant" might be the better word, but alas, he got beaten to the punch by Guido Fawkes, who bent the barrels round the other way. The Daily Telegraph describes how an offensive operation by Labor apparatchiks blew up in their faces. It began with Labor worrying about the British version of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. Their response was to manufacture the equivalent of the Daily Kos. And they planned to supply it with content including -- you guessed it -- the manufactured salacious emails.

The downfall of Damian McBride has its roots in a speech by Communities secretary Hazel Blears last November, when she warned of the increasing powers of rightwing bloggers to influence political debate.

In her speech she complained about a "spreading corrosive cynicism... by people with disdain for the political system and politicians. The most popular blogs are right-wing, ranging from the considered Tory views of Iain Dale to the vicious nihilism of Guido Fawkes." ...

In fact, there were already plans afoot for a new website to champion the Left. In January, Labourlist, run by Derek Draper, a former adviser to Lord Mandelson with impeccable new Labour contacts, launched, and was soon able to claim to have the party's largest grass roots e-network. Secretly Mr Draper was also working on another plan to fight Mr Staines and his Guido Fawkes blog with the same fire. This was to be a website called "Red Rag", which would be dripping sleaze and innuendo about top Conservatives.

The question was how to fill it. Mr McBride, known by some opponents as "McPoison", stepped in. Normally the stealthiest of press advisers, who tends to communicate with journalists by text, Mr McBride, a long time aide to Gordon Brown, typed a long list of scurrilous story ideas about top Tories which he emailed from his Downing Street account to Mr Draper on January 13. ...

The Press Association newswire filed a snap report just before 5pm saying: "Prime Minister Gordon Brown's special adviser Damian McBride has resigned from his post following the controversy over emails discussing smear stories about Tory MPs, Downing Street said tonight."

With those 28 words, bloggers claimed their biggest political scalp, and fired a warning shot across the bows of the political establishment. Arguably, they also altered the landscape of British politics for ever.