I have been out of the country for a few days (France, since you ask) and following the McBride “smear-gate” story from internet news reports and bloggers’ comments. With the benefit of that small degree of distance, there seem to be some very simple conclusions to draw.
First, the whole idea was deeply and irredeemably wrong. It is not acceptable to spread defamatory lies about people – whether you dislike their politics or not. The Prime Minister and the Labour Party should make it quite clear that the pursuit of such tactics by anyone purporting to act on their behalf or ostensibly in their interests will always be unacceptable and the individuals concerned will be treated as having brought the Party into disrepute. I trust other Parties (no names, no pack drill) will do the same.
Second, the concept would almost certainly have been utterly counter-productive. I am not convinced that the electorate think it matters what individuals might have done in their student days nearly twenty years ago and they are unlikely to think it relevant to their current suitability for public office. Nor are the past (or even current) sexual peccadilloes of public figures that relevant to their ability to be Government ministers. That doesn’t mean that people won’t take a prurient interest, but I am not convinced it makes much (if any) electoral difference. (Indeed, I remember talking to one politician who had recently had some particularly lurid stories printed about his sexual habits. He admitted that he had been worried about how his constituents might react. In fact, he said that, although he had had to endure some ribald comments, most of the reaction seemed tinged with – if anything – admiration.)
Third, it would appear that the execution of the proposed smear plot was incredibly inept – using an official and traceable email address, for example.
Finally, the net result of what has happened will further demean and degrade the reputation of politicians and – in turn – the democratic process. If you believe, like I do, that democracy and politics matters, then this may turn out to be the most worrying consequence of the whole sorry business.