The silly season must have started early this year. Mainstream bloggers, the press and the 24 hour rolling news media have gone crazy over 'Smeargate': the revelation that Damian McBride, the prime minister's chief political advisor (pictured) was plotting a series of smears against leading Tories. The email was leaked and picked up by Paul "Guido Fawkes" Staines, the fans flamed by Iain Dale, and was run in the press by the Torygraph. The tawdry contents of the email can be found here.
None of this should come as a surprise. The Tory front bench might be an ideas-free zone but the New Labour project is ideologically exhausted. As a creature of high neoliberalism it is woefully unsuited to what are becoming post-neoliberal times. Its reflex actions remain stamped by the old environment, hence its preference for de facto nationalisation of most of Britain's banking sector but without assuming state control, and not forgetting Mandelson's scheme to part-privatise the Royal Mail - though this is unlikely to happen as the government are having a hard time finding someone who will invest. The only way it can respond to political opponents is through negative campaigning. It is incapable of challenging the Tories on the ideological front, and so has to respond with pathetic smearing. A case in point was Labour's "strategy" in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election last year, when it resorted to pretty desperate class war rhetoric against the successful Tory candidate, Edward Timpson. And as if to underline the point, the West Midlands Labour slogan for the upcoming European elections is 'Stop the BNP'. Pathetic.
These sorts of scandals are ten-a-penny. But do they really matter in the grand scheme of things? They certainly exercise the Westminster Village and their hangers ons in the media and mainstream blogging, but outside of that few people care whether Derek Draper and other Brownite insiders are for the chop. But what it does is contribute to a general, incoherent anti-politics sentiment. This makes it easier to play the populist card, as UKIP and the BNP have found, but by far the biggest winner is political disengagement. Why bother turning out to vote if all you're going to get are out of touch careerist hacks in it to feather their own nests? It's going to take more than MP's expenses rule changes and a sleaze clean-up to fix Britain's eroding political system.