After some impressive groundwork from Guido Fawkes, who brought the story to the attention of the mainstream media, it became apparent that civil servant Mr McBride had written emails from his Downing Street office, during working hours, paid for by the taxpayer, using his government email address, which made a series of shameful smears against various Opposition politicians.
A statement issued yesterday indicated that Gordon Brown took the view that there was "no place in politics" for the dissemination of the kind of material with which Mr McBride was involved.
If only it were that simple for the Prime Minister to draw a line under the activities of one individual and claim that it was an isolated incident.
Labour came to office in 1997 on the back of crying sleaze against John Major's Government at every opportunity. Yet what we have seen from them in power amounts to a culture of spin and obsession with trampling its opponents which amounts to sleaze of the very worst kind.
The truth is that the McBride emails are by no means the first time that we have seen poisonous character assassination of those who were not signed up to the Labour agenda – be they people who exposed government shortcomings, political opponents, or even fellow Labour figures who fell out of favour.
Think of the following:
- The emails from a special adviser to Labour HQ seeking details of the political affiliations of survivors of the Paddington rail crash in an attempt to discredit their motives, after one of their number, Pam Warren, accused a Cabinet minister of misleading Parliament;
- The smearing of weapons expert Dr David Kelly by the then Prime Minister's official spokesman by branding him a "Walter Mitty" figure;
- The attempt by Labour to smear Boris Johnson as a bigot and racist when he was first selected as the Conservative mayoral candidate;
- How 94-year-old Rose Addis was accused of being a racist after complaining about the treatment she had received in hospital;
- The whispering campaign run against the Cabinet minister Mo Mowlam, in which anonymous sources briefed about her ability to do her job whilst undergoing treatment for cancer; and
- The dismissal of Sir Michael Willcocks, then Black Rod, as a "closet Tory" when he spoke out about Downing Street seeking a bigger role for Tony Blair in the Queen Mother's funeral.
And then there was the branding by minister Margaret Hodge herself of Demetrious Panton as "extremely disturbed"
after he spoke out about the failure properly to investigate the child
abuse he and others suffered when he was in care in Islington when Mrs
Hodge was council leader.
No administration in history has been so obsessed with spin to the point that those who threaten it have to be undermined and smeared in this way (and let's not forget the infamous suggestion from special adviser Jo Moore in an email that September 11 would be "a good day to bury bad news").
Herein lies an important lesson for David Cameron. Much has been written in recent weeks about the need to clean up politics and the events of the last 24 hours have made the need to set down the strictest of rules for political advisers in a future Cameron Government all the more vital.
Political advisers have a legitimate role to play and I do not join in the chorus of those who dismiss special advisers out of hand. For ministers to have a set of political eyes and ears in their departments is useful for them, for their civil servants and for journalists alike, and their position should be integral to good governance.
But indulging in attacks and smears must never be part of their portfolio and I hope David Cameron will take the opportunity to make that point loud and clear in the coming days.