Alan Johnson says Gordon Brown is unlikely to apologise
Gordon Brown does not have to say sorry for e-mails sent by his adviser that discussed smearing senior Tories, Health Secretary Alan Johnson has said.
"Gordon Brown had nothing to do with this. You apologise for the things you are responsible for," he told the BBC.
Mr Johnson said he felt "some shame" the tactics had been linked to his party, but said the person involved had resigned and the issue was now closed.
Tory leader David Cameron has demanded an apology from the prime minister.
Damian McBride quit as a No 10 special adviser after his e-mails containing unfounded claims about Tory leader David Cameron and shadow chancellor George Osborne became known.
The e-mails were originally sent in January to former government spin doctor Derek Draper, who runs the LabourList blog and was proposing to set up Red Rag, a new gossip-led site.
However, they came to the attention of Paul Staines, author of the "anti-politics" Guido Fawkes blog, who revealed their existence.
Since the revelations emerged Mr Brown has come under pressure from the Conservatives to launch an investigation and issue a public apology.
The stables do need to be cleaned out and it goes beyond the two particular oiks we are obsessed with at the moment
Tony Blair's former economic advisor
But the health secretary told the BBC that as Mr McBride - who took care of strategy and planning at No 10 - had gone immediately after the affair came to light, it was now time to draw a line under the issue.
He said: "There is no place for this in British politics and Gordon Brown has made that clear.
"You couldn't have been clearer or more forthright and of course the special adviser responsible resigned," he said.
"Gordon is not responsible for every single person who works for him, for what they do in their own time."
Mr Johnson said he acknowledged the e-mails were a more serious matter than the type of gossip usually found in political and media organisations.
But he added that their significance had been blown out of proportion by the media because it was "a bank holiday Monday" with few major stories to focus on.
Tony Blair's former economic adviser, Derek Scott, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that although he did not think Mr Brown was directly responsible, the smear tactics represented a culture that came from the top.
He said: "I think the tone, whether in a business or a political party, is set from above."
"The really damaging thing is they think they are being ultra loyal to Mr Brown and the Labour Party, but in fact they are doing the Labour Party an awful lot of damage.
"The stables do need to be cleaned out and it goes beyond the two particular oiks we are obsessed with at the moment," he added.
Conservative MP Nadine Dorries: 'We had been warned about a dirty tricks campaign'
Asked whether he felt such a culture prevailed at Number 10, Mr Johnson said: "No, I don't accept that at all and Gordon Brown wouldn't accept that."
Backbench Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, who was the focus of some of the e-mails, said Mr McBride had been made the "fall guy" for the whole debacle.
When asked if the prime minister should apologise, Ms Dorries said: "The buck stops with the prime minister. Damian McBride was his direct employee."
She said conversations about the e-mails had been "going round for some considerable time".
"We've all been warned as Conservative MPs that this dirty tricks campaign was about to be launched. I was contacted months ago about the contents of these e-mails, by the national press."
Ms Dorries has taken legal advice and said she would be making a decision on Tuesday about what action to take.
Shadow foreign secretary William Hague also demanded an apology and an investigation.
And he called for an assurance that neither Damian McBride nor Derek Draper would work for the government or the Labour Party again.
Cabinet Office Minister Liam Byrne earlier said Mr Brown knew nothing of the e-mails and dismissed suggestions of an orchestrated smear campaign.
Mr Staines has refused to reveal how the messages found their way to him, despite complaints from Mr Draper that they were private.
Mr McBride described the first claim as a ''solid investigative story'', but the other three as ''mainly gossipy, and intended to destabilise the Tories".
Mr Draper has apologised to those mentioned in the e-mails and admitted "we should never really have considered the idea and I am sorry we did".
Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former spin doctor, wrote in his blog that he had been struck not just by the "unpleasantness" of the e-mails, but also by their "incompetence".
"McBride will be thinking that was his big mistake - writing it all down. His really big mistake was thinking it might be effective," Mr Campbell added.
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