Page last updated at 20:11 GMT, Sunday, 12 April 2009 21:11 UK

Departure of Brown's spin doctor

By Laura Kuenssberg
BBC political correspondent

Downing Street
Downing Street apologised for the embarrassment caused

Damian McBride departed in a blaze of headlines that even he could not control.

He had been by Gordon Brown's side for many years, paid to try to control the media coverage of his boss.

But the e-mails he wrote to his old pal - another former Labour spin doctor, Derek Draper - crossed the line even in the often brutal world of politics.

He is leaving Number 10 with no severance pay, no fat pay off, according to a Downing Street source. But does he take with him any hope the PM had of keeping his promise of ending the culture of spin?

Although some Labour figures, notably those who have been on the end of some of Mr McBride's briefings, are pleased to see him gone from Number 10, there is tangible anger in some quarters of the party - concern that the publication of the e-mail extracts smears Labour in general.

Investigation calls

And not everyone appears to be buying Cabinet Office minister Liam Byrne's explanation that this was "one private e-mail exchange between a couple of friends who were knocking backwards and forwards ideas."

Left-wing MP John McDonnell has called for an investigation.

And a former Labour minister, Tom Harris, suggests on his blog that the suggestion this was just a bit of banter between two friends, is just not good enough.

He says it is "about standards of political activity, standards which have fallen far, far below what is remotely acceptable, especially for someone working at the very heart of government".

Believe it or not, questions have been asked in Parliament over recent years about Mr McBride's role, and there are those on the Labour side who view this tawdry episode as a chance to change, or clarify the role of the special adviser.

Role's critics

"Spads", as they are known, are appointed by ministers to carry out the political business, that impartial civil servants cannot.

But as they are paid out of the public purse, and able to commission work from civil servants, the role has not been without its critics.

It is no surprise that the Conservative leadership will not let it lie. David Cameron's team say he was "sickened" by the e-mails, and "absolutely furious".

They are calling for no less than a public apology from Gordon Brown and an inquiry into who knew what when. Will they get one?

Well, it is certain that Gordon Brown will face questions on this when he next steps into the public glare.

But the Conservatives and those on the Labour side who see this as an opportunity to change the role of special advisers may well be disappointed.

Mr McBride's hasty exit suggests that Downing Street decided to try to shut this down as quickly as they could. Do not be surprised if the PM is tight-lipped about the departure of his old pal.



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