Page last updated at 15:52 GMT, Friday, 17 April 2009 16:52 UK

Martha Kearney's week

By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's World at One

The condemnations could not have been more pious.

Damien from the film Omen
Bad Omen: This Damian was no saint either

Gordon Brown said: "I was horrified, I was shocked and I was very angry indeed." Health Secretary Alan Johnson was "disgusted".

Former minister Alan Milburn told me on Tuesday's programme that the slurs against Tory figures and their families made him "sick to my stomach".

It was almost as if Damian McBride had behaved like his demonic namesake in The Omen.

Certainly the intended smears went far beyond the usual line of political attack but they were part of a spectrum of vitriol rather than a bolt from the blue into the innocent world of Westminster.

'Kill Mil'

Mr Milburn also said on WATO: "What is now clear from media reports is that for years it has been members of the Labour Party who have been on the receiving end of vicious briefing campaigns."

He should know as he was a target of Brownites in an operation dubbed Kill Mil.

What we are seeing is a legacy of the internal Labour feuding - the TBGBs - when both sides indulged in furious briefing and counter briefing.

All of this has tarnished the good reception Gordon Brown got for the G20 summit

What is hard to believe is that senior politicians had no knowledge of the kind of tactics employed by spin doctors, though not the contact of the emails themselves.

In fact one former minister who was close to Gordon Brown told me this week that the PM had been warned by a number of people about Damian McBride but had chosen not to act.

"That does him no credit at all", the politician said. I was also told a number of years ago that Tony Blair had asked Gordon Brown to sack McBride.

The prime minister did apologise on Thursday for the emails but his political opponents were not impressed.

The shadow chancellor George Osborne, whose wife Frances was among those targeted by the smears, told me: "It has come a little late this apology and it is a shame we had to ask for it."

Voter cynicism

The controversy, which exploded while Mr Osborne was on an Easter break with his family in his Tatton constituency, had been "pretty unpleasant", he said.

"It's not a nice thing to go through. Of course there is rough and tumble in politics and you get very used to it if you are in the frontline. But this went way beyond that and was pretty personal."

He went on: "I wish this whole thing had never happened, that is a statement of the obvious. But it did and the prime minister has at last, many days later, admitted full responsibility for it. That is fine, people will draw their own conclusions about the kind of government he runs."

Another Damian, Damian Green, compounded the government's difficulties this week when charges over leaks from the Home Office were dropped against him.

The Conservatives maintain that civil servants brought in the police because of political pressure from ministers. That was firmly denied by the government.

All of this has tarnished the good reception Gordon Brown got for the G20 summit and will place great pressure on next week's Budget to provide a platform for a relaunch.

Expectations are already being lowered. In fact the Financial Times was briefed on just how bad the budget deficit is likely to be. But there will be some targeted measures especially on employment, credit insurance and car scrapping schemes.

Whether that will be enough to stem voter cynicism in the wake of the emails affair and MPs' expenses remains to be seen.

And when MPs return to Westminster on Monday, Damian McBride will still be the focus of political anger.

Some may even relish the fate of the original Damian, a third century saint who was hung on a cross, stoned and shot by arrows and finally suffered execution by beheading.



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