Alastair Campbell, the former Labour spin doctor, on Sunday urged his party not to be frightened off the internet by the media “hoo-ha” over the e-mails affair.
“This episode is a bad example of the old politics, much more than a botched example of the new,” Mr Campbell wrote on his blog, saying he had been struck by the “incompetence” as well as the “unpleasantness” of the e-mails sent from No 10.
However, the political fallout seems certain to have a chilling effect on Labour’s online activities, whatever Mr Campbell might wish.
One of the principals concerned in the exchange of emails admitted in a contrite blog posting on Sunday that the origins of the affair lay in Labour’s desire to catch up with rivals’ more effective web campaigning.
“We had been looking at the success of the right across the blogosphere and seen how effective their more scurrilous elements were … I think we were a bit dazzled by what they get up to,” Derek Draper, the editor of Labourlist, a Labour-supporting site, wrote.
Mr Draper said this bedazzlement led him and Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s media strategist, to “kick around the idea” of Red Rag. This was designed to be a Labour-supporting “gossipy” site, “whether it contained the infamous stories in Damian’s emails or more harmless tittle tattle,” Mr Draper wrote. “We should never really have considered the idea … We got ourselves drawn into the most negative part of the blogosphere.”
Mr Draper’s involvement in that “negative part” of the web included a vicious cyberwar with Paul Staines, the right-wing libertarian whose Guido Fawkes blog provides a platform for provocative attacks on the political establishment. The feud began when Mr Draper launched Labourlist in January with the unofficial backing of leading cabinet figures. It culminated with the Guido blog, after sending the leaked emails to two Sunday newspapers, this weekend featuring Mr McBride under the simple headline: “mission accomplished”.
But does the sorry saga suggest the left simply cannot compete effectively on the web? Labour insiders on Sunday admitted that it is more difficult for the party in power to run effective blogs, which by their nature tend to be gossipy, attention-grabbing posts. “You’re either very, very dull or, if you’re remotely interesting, you’re going to get into trouble,” one government insider stated.
The party stressed it is still determined to press ahead with its plans to use the internet more effectively in areas such as campaigning and recruiting supporters. But Labour lacks the high-profile equivalent of a Conservativehome – a site for party activists that focuses at least as much on policy discussion as gossip. Somewhat ironically, it is this void that Mr Draper was drafted in to fill with Labourlist – an initiative now overshadowed by a misconceived attempt to wage a dirty political war using the web.
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