Page last updated at 15:46 GMT, Tuesday, 14 April 2009 16:46 UK

Smeared Tories want No 10 reform

David Cameron: 'Gordon Brown hired these people, he sets the tone'

David Cameron has demanded a reform of Downing Street's "culture" after a government adviser sent e-mails about slurs against leading Conservatives.

The Tory leader said Labour had "been in power too long" and Gordon Brown had to end "this sort of nonsense".

Adviser Damian McBride resigned after unfounded claims about Mr Cameron and other senior figures were revealed.

The government has defended its response to the e-mails scandal, saying the prime minister had "taken action".

Mr McBride stood down on Saturday, after it was revealed that he had sent e-mails in January to former government spin doctor Derek Draper, containing allegations about Mr Cameron, shadow chancellor George Osborne and Tory MP Nadine Dorries among others.

'Need for change'

It was suggested the smears be published in a proposed Labour-backing, gossip-led website called Red Rag. The idea was later abandoned.

Mr Brown has written to those mentioned in the e-mails, expressing his "deep regret" and insisting no ministers had been involved.

But the Conservatives have continued to question whether this was the case and, in particular, whether Cabinet Office minister Tom Watson knew about plans to set up Red Rag.

As a result I have to admit that I made little effort to suppress a smile when I heard about his [Mr McBride's] enforced departure from Downing Street

Stephen Byers, Labour MP

Mr Cameron said: "What this whole episode demonstrates is the need for change - not change in the special advisers code but change in the culture at Number 10 Downing Street.

"I do not think we will get a change in culture until we get a change in leadership and we won't get a change in leadership until we get a change of government.

"These people have just been in power too long; they have forgotten who they are serving, what they are meant to be doing, how they are meant to behave and we need some change.

"I do not know what Gordon Brown knew and when he knew it but what I do know is that he hired these people, he sets the culture, he is the leader and we need change in order to change the culture and stop this sort of nonsense."

Earlier, shadow Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "It is perfectly clear that what Damian McBride was doing was massively in breach of the code for special advisers and if ministers and other special advisers were involved, they would be in breach of the code as well, and we ought to know that."

The row highlighted "the whole culture at the centre of government", which Mr Maude said had "surrounded Gordon Brown all of his political career".

Meanwhile, Frances Osborne, wife of shadow chancellor George Osborne, has complained to the Press Complaints Commission after allegations about her were repeated in the Sunday Times and News of the World.

Action pledge

The government defended its response to the revelations, saying there was a "huge amount of frustration" that the controversy was diverting attention from efforts to deal with problems facing the country.

A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Brown had been aware of the story on Friday but McBride had not resigned until Saturday because the PM had not known the exact nature of the e-mails until then.

He added that Mr McBride would not receive any severance pay.

As well as writing to those named in the e-mails, Mr Brown sent a letter to Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell, saying he was ready to take "whatever action is required" to prevent a repeat of the incident.

He called for anyone caught "disseminating inappropriate material" to lose their jobs automatically, and suggested special advisers should not be allowed to use official resources for party political purposes.

'Spinning new rhetoric'

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears told the BBC: "Damian McBride has gone through the door in pretty sharp order. The prime minister's written personally to the people involved, expressing great regret about what's happened, and he's toughening up the code for special advisers.

"Now that says to me that the prime minister, who knew nothing about these e-mails, has taken action on every single front here."

Ms Dorries, who was the focus of some of the e-mail correspondence, said the current code of conduct already included safeguards to prevent such behaviour.

People wanted to see this adhered to rather than "spinning new rhetoric about writing a new code", she said.

Labour MP Stephen Byers, a former cabinet minister, wrote in the London Evening Standard that he had been the victim of Mr McBride's "aggressive and hostile media briefing" several times.

"As a result I have to admit that I made little effort to suppress a smile when I heard about his enforced departure from Downing Street," he added.

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