There is no act of treachery or meanness of which a political party is not capable
Smeargate, otherwise known as the Labour Sex Smear Affair, was the political scandal that occupied much of the British media over the Easter weekend of 2009, which focussed in the activities of two Labour Party officials named Damian McBride and Derek Draper.1
Damian McBride, otherwise known as McPoison and much else besides, was described by the News of the World as Gordon Brown's "most trusted aide" and his "personal spin doctor", became Brown's official political spokesman when the latter became Prime Minister. Until that is, he made rather a mess of the issue of Ruth Kelly's resignation, and was nominally shifted to one side and placed in charge of 'strategy'. Derek Draper was a former protégé of Peter Mandelson who had previously been disgraced during the Lobbygate scandal at the beginning of Blair's reign. He later disappeared off to the United States and trained to be psychotherapist before returning in the summer of 2008 to become the Labour Party's unofficial volunteer New Media adviser.
Welcome to the Blogosphere
At the heart of this affair was the emergence of what is sometimes referred to as the 'New Media', that is the Internet, with its plethora of blogs, discussion boards. Here the old rules have ceased to apply, which is to say that those individuals employed by governments to manage the flow of news stories and comment no longer have any influence on what is said. What concerned many in the Labour Party was that much of this online political debate had become dominated by voices that were not supportive of the government line, and were particularly envious of the popularity of such websites as ConservativeHome and Ian Dale's Diary. They also took note of the success enjoyed by one Barack Obama in harnessing the power of the Internet to support his own bid for the Democratic nomination and ultimately for the office of President of the United States, and therefore decided that it was time to polish up Labour's online presence.
One of the results of this internal party discussion was a document headed 'Draft New Media Strategy' dated the 21st November 2008, which set out an objective of "building of a variety of 'extra' party, 'independent' initiatives", which it noted hadn't "happened naturally and needs to be encouraged". It should be noted here that the quote marks were in the original document and thus gave the distinct impression that the intention was that these new media efforts only needed to appear to be 'extra' and/or 'independent', and that they would otherwise dutifully follow the party line.
Part of this strategy involved the establishment of the LabourList website, but both Derek Draper and Damian McBride were concerned with the success of one particular blog maintained by a certain Guido Fawkes which frequently published tales of political sleaze and corruption which were seen as a damaging to the Labour cause 2. What McBride and Draper therefore decided to do was establish their own new 'attack blog'. It was to be established under the Red Rag banner and would publish various stories that would serve to "destabilise" the Conservatives. The website was duly registered on the 4th November 2008 in the name of one 'Ollie Cromwell' who gave his address as the 'House of Commons'.3
The Draper-Fawkes feud
Bubbling in the background was the feud that had developed between Derek Draper and Guido Fawkes.
Having returned from the political wilderness to lead Labour's online charge, Draper found himself embroiled in a spat with the aforementioned Guido Fawkes, largely because Fawkes had seen fit to run a number of stories that claimed (inter alia) that Draper had exaggerated his qualifications as a psychotherapist and had deliberately sought to give the false impression that he had attended the University of California, Berkeley. These stories naturally caused Draper some embarrassment, particularly since they were to a large extent actually based on the truth.
As editor of the LabourList website Draper was able to retaliate by publishing a so-called 'dossier' entitled 'Paul Staines - The truth about the man behind Guido Fawkes' which briefly summarised certain well-known facts regarding the life and times of Paul Staines aka Guido Fawkes. More importantly however, this dossier gave prominence to a selection of entries Fawkes's readers had left to one of the regular caption competitions run on his website which the dossier's author deemed to be racist, and so implied that Staines himself was a racist for permitting such comments to be 'published'. Fawkes was unhappy about this implication which he believed to be the work of Damian McBride. Indeed although Draper denied at the time that McBride had anything to do with LabourList, he later admitted that McBride was in fact the source of the information that lay behind this 'racist smear'.
In any event, Fawkes now felt motivated to bring his guns to bear on both Draper and McBride. Somehow, and it is not clear how, Fawkes obtained a copy of certain e-mails written by McBride and resolved to deploy them to maximum effect. On Thursday, 9th April 2009 his blog featured a photograph of McBride under the crosshairs of a sniper's target with the enigmatic heading of 'He Who Lives By the Smear ...'
Then on Saturday 11th April the Daily Telegraph ran a front page story under the headline 'Row as Number 10 emails 'smear Tories'' which revealed the existence of certain e-mails which the paper said contained a "number of unfounded, innuendo-laden suggestions about the private lives of David Cameron, George Osborne and other Conservative MPs". The newspaper provided no further detail regarding the actual "innuendo-laden suggestions" that had been made and whilst the Telegraph reported that the recipient of the e-mails was Derek Draper, it did not mention McBride. These omissions were explained by the fact that the Telegraph story was what was known in Fleet Street as a spoiler, largely to blunt the effect of the otherwise exclusive story that would soon be appearing in a rival publication on the following Sunday. Indeed the Telegraph almost appeared keen to downplay the affair as it referred to "a source close to the Downing Street official and Mr Draper" who claimed that the pair were simply "knocking round some ideas for a blog" which "never got past first base" and that the whole thing was all just a "juvenile prank". However whilst the Telegraph might have spared its readers blushes, the rumours regarding the nature of these "innuendo-laden suggestions" soon spread around the corridors of Westminster and on the Internet. 4
It was later said that efforts were made by Downing Street to find various Labour MPs prepared to speak out in favour of McBride, but found no takers. Indeed those Labour members, such as former Home Secretary Charles Clarke, who did speak to the media took a quite different line, as in "Damian McBride has no place in 10 Downing Street. His actions bring shame to the Labour party and he should be dismissed immediately". Indeed the very idea that Brown was employing an advisor who was prepared to sink to such depths met with almost universal condemnation within the Labour Party itself, with Tom Harris, the Labour member for Glasgow South describing it as "inexcusable to us as it is to the rest of the world".
It became perfectly clear that McBride's days were numbered, and at 5.01 pm that day Guido Fawkes reported on his blog, '+++ Mission Accomplished - McBride Fired +++'; although as it turned out McBride had been permitted to resign. He issued a statement in which he noted how "shocked and appalled" and "sickened" he was. Not apparently by his own plunge into the gutter, but rather by the fact that Guido Fawkes had put the e-mails into the public domain and so made the whole issue public knowledge.
All of which meant that Gordon Brown's government was already "engulfed in crisis" even before the story actually appeared in theSunday Times
and News of the World
on the 12th April 2009.
Bang goes the Dirty Bomb
Whilst on the Saturday the media were largely prepared to follow the Downing Street line that the content of the e-mails was "juvenile and inappropriate", on Sunday they changed their tune and began to deploy other, less complimentary, adjectives such as "vile" and "obscene". The crux of the matter as reported in both The Sunday Times and the News of the World was the contents of an e-mail that McBride had sent Draper on the 13th January (which was copied into certain other interested parties) in which McBride announced, "Gents, a few ideas I have been working on for Red Rag. For ease, I've written all the below as I'd write them for the site." These "few ideas" comprised the stories;
- that there was one homosexual Conservative Member of Parliament who was "routinely using his position in the House of Commons to offer free publicity" to the company which employed his boyfriend,
- that the Leader of the Conserative Party David Cameron had suffered some kind of "embarrassing" medical condition, and that this story should be published online featuring a photograph of one Dr Christian Jessen for no better reason than that this doctor also presented a television programme entitled Embarrassing Illnesses,
- that an ex-girlfriend of George Osborne the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer was in possession of photographs of him in a bra, knickers and suspenders with his face blacked up,
- that "secret tapes" existed containing evidence that Osborne once had sex with a prostitute,
- that Osborne's wife Frances Osborne was in some way "mentally fragile", and
- that a back-bench Conservative Member of Parliament named Nadine Dorries once had a 'one-night stand with a married colleague.
Whilst there was not the slightest hint of evidence that any of the above claims were true, nevertheless McBride believed that they would "put the fear of God" into the Conservative Party. For his part, Derek Draper seemed well pleased with the proffered stories and responded with the words, "Absolutely totally brilliant Damian, I'll think about timing and sort out the technology this week so we can go as soon as possible."
The publication of these revelations went off with all the force of a dirty bomb in Westminster as it triggered a deluge of stories that dominated the media over the following few days. The Mail on Sunday claimed that Gordon Brown had a "track record for licensing political thuggery", that he stood "starkly implicated by this affair", which it saw as evidence of "the deep malaise at the heart of the Brown administration". The leading article in the Sunday Times appeared under the headline 'Sleazy smears that soil Downing Street' and noted how it all stood in stark contrast to the "different kind of politics" promised by Gordon Brown when he took office, and that McBride's action were "a disgraceful abuse of public money and of a public position".
By the Sunday evening the BBC was reporting that David Cameron was "absolutely furious" about the whole affair and was demanding a personal apology from Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whilst the Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling claimed the e-mails demonstrated a "structured plan" to publish "blatant lies" about opposition MPs which was "sign of something absolutely rotten at the heart of Gordon Brown's Downing Street".
On the Easter Monday the headline in The Times was 'Clean up your spin machine' whilst its leader appeared under the headline 'Roll of Dishonour'. The Guardian ran with the headline 'Brown told: smear tactics could cost Labour election' whilst its editorial appeared under the title 'Labour: The wages of spin' which referred to the "nasty political games" being played, and the fear that the government had "nothing better to say for itself". The Independent's leader appeared under the title 'A scandal that lifts the lid on the seamier side of spin' and referred to the "loathsome campaigns in which one of his closest aides was engaged" and how the "McBride affair is a sorry reflection on Mr Brown's term in government". Even a former Brown loyalist such as Jackie Ashley now offered the view that "Gordon Brown's vicious side is now clear to the whole country".
Whilst the Government line was all this was simply the work of a rogue agent, others naturally speculated as to whether any evidence would emerge that would implicate anyone else within Downing Street, as did The Times on the 16th April when it announced, 'Ministers braced for more smear e-mails'. The Independent agreed and reported that "Rumours are swirling around Westminster that more damaging emails which would embarrass the Prime Minister are about to be leaked". But rumours are what they remained, and no further e-mails emerged.
This did not of course prevent the media (or indeed the nation at large) from speculating as to who else might be involved. The Sun alleged that "Two Dinners Tom", otherwise known as "Treacherous Tom Watson", was "behind this sick plot" 5, whilst the name of Ed Balls was mentioned elsewhere as a likely co-conspirator. For his own part, Balls claimed to "have had no knowledge whatsoever of any smears" and any suggestion to the contrary was "completely fabricated and malevolent nonsense without any foundation in fact". McBride's predecessor Charlie Whelan, and one of the recipients of the poisoned e-mails, was also frequently mentioned as being at the heart of the operation.
The Daily Telegraph of the 14th April ran a story under the headline 'Gordon Brown drawn into No. 10 email scandal' as it reported on how Draper and his wife, Kate had been Brown's lunch guests at Chequers on the 16th November 2008, and the News of the World of the 19th April reported on a "planning meeting" which took place on the 1st December at headquarters of Unite attended by both Damian McBride and Derek Draper, together with Ray Collins (General Secretary of the Labour Party), Charlie Whelan and Andrew Dodghson from Unite, and a Daily Mirror journalist named Kevin Maguire. 6
Guido Fawkes himself claimed to have spoken to Dan Thain, former Labour Party eCampaigns Manager, who had told Fawkes that he knew of the Red Rag project, and that Sue Macmillan, the Party's New Media Campaigns Taskforce Leader was also in the know. Fawkes was also to claim that the idea of setting up an attack blog was "openly discussed" at the numerous "blogger's breakfasts" were organised by Derek Draper at Labour Headquarters. However, although it was argued that it was "inconceivable" that Draper hadn't raised the question of the Red Rag website at any of these meetings, this did not prove that anyone else had any knowledge of the detailed content which it was proposed should feature on Red Rag. With no smoking gun to tie anyone else into the Draper-McBride smear campaign, the attempt to widen the scandal largely petered out.
Climbing Mount Impossible
Initially Gordon Brown declined to apologise for the actions of his trusted servant on the grounds that he had nothing to apologise for. His response was simply to the whole scandal was to promise to write to those affected to "express his regret", and insist that he had written to the Cabinet Secretary, Gus O'Donnell, asking him to tighten up the rules on what special advisers were and were not allowed to do. However as the BBC pointed out, the "the rules were already clear that advisers should avoid personal attacks". He duly wrote to those effected, enclosing a copy of the letter he'd sent to Gus O'Donnell, together with a personal note which drew attention to that fact that the "political adviser concerned has apologised unreservedly and left his post", but that the adviser in question had sent the "prank emails without the knowledge of anyone in Downing Street", and that it was all a "matter of great regret to me".
This did not satisfy the Conservatives, who continued to press for a statement from the Prime Minister that actually included the word 'sorry' as well as a proper inquiry in order to establish whether or not anyone else was involved in the Red Rag smear plot. They duly received some support from The Sun, whose editorial on the 16th April proclaimed that 'The stink of a cover-up hangs over Downing Street' as it claimed that likes of McBride were now "the true face of today's Labour Party", that the Party had "lost all decency, all sense of honour, all connection with the people it was elected to serve", and that "Mr Brown's mealy-mouthed "regrets" are no apology at all".
Shortly after midday on the 16th April the pressure from the Conservatives achieved the apparently impossible, and Brown appeared on television standing in what seemed to be a building site and uttered the words, "I am sorry about what happened". However he then also informed the nation that he took "full responsibility for what happens and that's why the person who was responsible went immediately", without the slightest awareness of the contradictory nature of that statement. Brown's belated apology was immediately interpreted as being either an attempt to draw a line under the affair or an attempt to distract attention from the embarrassing denouement to the Damien Green Affair which also occupied the press that day.
Brown was later obliged to deliver a second apology at Prime Minister's Questions on the 22nd April. Normally there would have been dozens of Conservative Members of Parliament seeking to catch the Speaker's eye. This time however, the only one standing was Nadine Dorries who requested, and duly received, as personal apology from Gordon Brown.
Nevertheless the Conservative call for an inquiry went unheeded. As Gus O'Donnell explained, he had received personal assurances from the likes of Tom Watson that they knew nothing of what McBride was up to, and therefore there was no need to actually carry out a check of Downing Street's computer systems or anything of that nature.
Brown's Dirty Little Secret
It had been an open secret both within the Labour Party itself that Brown had been running a dirty war against his political opponents for a number of years, initially directed by one Charlie Whelan, until he was persuaded to step down as part of a temporary truce during the ongoing Blair-Brown Civil War in the Party. (Which was why The Times of the 16th April ran its leading article under the headline 'Dealing with Whelan' and asserted that the "McBride e-mails did not come out of a clear blue sky" and that they were but "one particularly bad instance of a political campaigning style ... that Mr Whelan did most to help to create".) Thus Damian McBride was simply Brown's current political hit man, with a license to spread the dirt on his enemies.
This was simply the way that Brown conducted the business of politics, although in the past the targets had been his political rivals within the Labour Party (so-called 'Red-on-red action'), and explained why, when Brown stood for the vacant position of Leader of the Labour Party in 2007, he was the only candidate. As Alan Milburn told the World at One on the 14th April, "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". As Mary Riddell put it in the Times, the "danger for Mr Brown is that the ministers and apparatchiks within his own party who claim to have been briefed against by Mr McBride could almost fill Wembley stadium".
The Independent of the 18th April 2009 helpfully provided a list of those figures in the Labour Party who had suffered at the hands of the Brown smear machine. They included Harriet Harman, David Miliband, Jack Straw, Alistair Darling and James Purnell. And those were just the current members of the Cabinet. Others included Douglas Alexander (a onetime close friend of Brown) as well as Ivan Lewis, George Howarth, Stephen Byers and Alan Milburn.
Stephen Byers went on record in the Evening Standard to confirm that he believed that he had been the victim of McBride's "aggressive and hostile media briefing" on several occasions and therefore "made little effort to suppress a smile" when he heard of McBride's demise. Various other Labour politicians were also prepared to now break cover and offer their assessment of Brown's approach to politics, and although unlike Byers they still preferred the cloak of anonymity, the media was nevertheless able to provide such choice descriptions as;
- Licensed to kill, by Gordon
- The most lethal attack machine in the history of British politics, they have polluted the core of British politics for years.
- These e-mails are the minutest tip of the iceberg. For years and years and years it has not been the Labour Party's political enemies who have been on the receiving end, it's been people in the Labour Party.
- People accused Tony of telling lies but Gordon is the biggest liar in modern politics.
Or as Trevor Kavanagh, writing in the Sun put it, Brown had been "revealed as an insecure bully who relies on ruthless and unscrupulous henchmen to poison his rivals".
Casual observers of British politics might well have asked themselves why, if this was the case, had the British media not brought this fact to their attention. The truth was that much of the press had been complicit in this long history of political dirty tricks. As Alice Miles, writing in the Times, admitted of Damian McBride, "We knew what he was up to, and we knew that he was being paid about £60,000 a year of public money to do it - and we did nothing to stop it". Much of the press had indeed colluded with these underhand and anonymous attacks simply because it gave then something to write about and because they feared that if they didn't they would be ostracised by the Downing Street publicity machine.
Even the publicity of Smeargate was not necessarily viewed as sufficient to bring an end to Brown's conception of politics as there was "one former Cabinet minister" who claimed that "They are going to do it again with the succession to Gordon, because it’s worked for them so far. They are having a good go at Harriet. They are beginning to train their sights on James". as if to prove the point, the Sunday Express later ran a story on the 26th April about how Purnell had left his taxpayer-funded second home "looking like a pigsty2 despite claiming more than £1,600 for cleaning and repairs; a story which bore all the hallmarks of Brown's 'dirty tricks cabal'.
Life inside the Labour Party
Which all went to show that life inside the Labour Party was hardly a bed of roses under Brown's leadership. Dan Clarke, the Labour PPC for Eastleigh, decided that he'd had enough and so resigned and joined the Liberal Democrats, but far more publicity was created by the announcement on the 18th April that Alice Mahon, a seventy-one year old Labour Party veteran and former Member of Parliament for Halifax, was resigning from the Party on the grounds that its leadership had now "betrayed many of the values and principles" that had inspired her to join the Party in the first place. Ms Mahon was also upset over what she described as the "despicable" treatment of one Janet Oosthuysen, who had narrowly beaten Cherie Blair's stepmother Steph Booth to win the nomination as the PPC for the Calder Valley, only to be later deselected by the National Executive Committee. Ms Oosthuysen's offence was to possess a police caution for once damaging a former partner's car, the non-disclosure of which led the NEC to take action against her although Mahon saw this as simply the result of a "personally vindictive, dishonest, campaign played out on the pages of the tabloids by certain Labour party members".
This certainly struck a chord with many, as only the previous day it had become known that the candidate selection process for the Erith and Thamesmead constituency had to be suspended when it was discovered that a ballot box stored at the Labour Party's regional headquarters had been tampered with and found to contain ripped-up postal votes. It was alleged that Georgia Gould, the twenty-two year old daughter of Philip Gould (once Tony Blair's polling guru) and supposed protégé of the McDonagh sisters, Siobhain and Margaret, had been the subject of a smear campaign undertaken by Charlie Whelan on behalf of his favoured candidate Rachel Maskell. There were also counter-claims of undue influence being exercised in favour of Ms Gould, particularly and allegation that Tessa Jowell had sought to 'bribe' the local party members by promising that money from the 2012 Olympic Games would be lavished on the area if Ms Gould was selected. All of which left John Austin, the retiring member for the constituency, demanding a police investigation.
Frank Field, the Labour member for Birkenhead, went even further on his blog under the title 'Darkness at the Heart of the Labour Party' and wrote of how "Week after week MPs have been turning up but with almost no serious work to do" and of how the government had "no legislative programme to speak of" and that "the energy at the heart of Number 10" was rather "going into trying to smear the opposition".
After the Storm Blows Over
The squall was largely over by the following week, as everyone began to focus on the forthcoming Budget statement due on the 23rd April 2009, a matter of great interest to many given the parlous state of the nation's finances.
Nevertheless Damian MacBride was left in search of an alternative source of employment. It was a similar story for Derek Draper at least as far as his political career was concerned, as on the 15th April, Ray Collins the General Secretary of the Labour Party, issued a statement that "Derek Draper does not hold a position or role with the Labour Party and this will remain the case" and also stated that Draper would be banned from attending any more meetings of the National Executive Committee in his capacity as an "unofficial adviser". His position as editor of LabourList seemed uncertain, certainly by the 20th April visitors to the website where greeted by the banner message 'Young Labour Take Over LabourList'. Draper was otherwise nowhere to be seen.
Frances Osborne complained to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) that the News of the World and the Sunday Times had repeated scurrilous allegations. The PCC confirmed that it was investigating and warned the media not to repeat the allegations. For her part Nadine Dorres was contemplating legal action but was unwilling to provide any further detail. She was widely quoted as saying that she had "instructed a solicitor and legal proceedings are going to start" but had been advised not to say anything else.
Inspired by Draper's example someone duly set up their own version of Red Rag (at http://the-red-rag.blogspot.com/) and even registered an e-mail address at email@example.com. Sadly for Mr Draper this version of Red Rag had been established with quite different intentions as its strapline, "though cowards flinch and traitors smear, we'll keep the red rag lying here", clearly demonstrated.
As far as Gordon Brown was concerned, Smeargate was described by one "Downing Street insider" as a "full on disaster for Gordon - Downing Street is in meltdown", coming as did on top of the expenses scandal involving the likes of Jacqui Smith, Tony McNulty et al, together with the denouement of the Damian Green Affair that heaped further embarrassment on his Government. Confirmation of the damage done arrived on the 19th April with the publication of two opinion polls, one by Marketing Sciences for the Sunday Telegraph, and one BPIX for the Mail on Sunday which showed the Conservative Party respectively 17% and 19% ahead of their Labour rivals.
1 Do we have to call it Smeargate? Yes, apparently we do.
2 Both McBride and Draper were of the opinion that Guido Fawkes's Blog was in someway 'backed by the Tories', although in truth Mr Fawkes was far more of an anarchist than a Conservative, and was equally willing to have a pop at the latter if the opportunity presented itself.
3 As far as British regulations were concerned it was an offence to register a domain name with a false name and address. Nominet was said to be investigating the question with a view to identifying the person who had paid the £8.99 fee.
4 It seemed that although the Telegraph had been offered the story by Fawkes, they declined to run it, apparently due to an unwillgness to pay the asking price of £20,000. However Fawkes eventually gave the e-mails to the Sunday Times and News of the World and indeed the BBC, for absolutely nothing, mainly because of the legal advice he received that the standard defence that he was acting in the public interest might well be undermined if he had received financial benefit for so doing. Fawkes was subsequently most annoyed by the Telegraph's story since this breached the non-disclosure agreement signed by one Christopher Hope on behalf of the Daily Telegraph.
5 Best known for leading the so-called 'Curry House Coup' that helped hasten the end of Tony Blair's premiership.
6 Whilst it was claimed by Derek Draper that someone had 'hacked' his computer, and so obtained copies of the e-mails, others noted that as the political director of Unite, Charlie Whelan had succeeded in making a numebr of enemies. As one "Unite source" put it, "There is no shortage of people who would be prepared to leak those emails. People are queueing up to punch Charlie's lights out."
Sourced from various reports in the British media including inter alia;
- Draft New Media Strategy, 21st November 2008
- Paul Staines - The truth about the man behind Guido Fawkes
- Vicious and vile, News of the World, 12/04/2009ml
- Revealed: e-mails that toppled key Brown aide, The Sunday Times, April 12, 2009
- ‘Brilliant’: the lurid lies of sex and drugs, The Sunday Times, April 12, 2009
- Simon Walters and Glen Owen, Revealed: Downing Street's 'vile' sex smear emails about top Tories' private lives, Mail on Sunday, 12th April 2009
- Juvenile or not, the buck stops with Brown, Mail On Sunday, 12th April 2009
- Christopher Hope, How the Labour smear email story unfolded, Sunday Telegraph, 12 Apr 2009
- Smear scandal proves hard to shake 13 April 2009
- Alice Miles, The Brown cabal motto: smears, not ideas, The Times, April 15, 2009
- Guido Fawkes, A Blogger's Notebook, 15th April 2009
- David Singleton, Downing Street in 'meltdown', PR Week, 15-Apr-09
- Andrew Sparrow, Gordon Brown says sorry for Damian McBride email smears, 16 April 2009
- Andy McSmith, Psst... the rumours that tainted Brown's rivals, The Independent, 18 April 2009
- Mark Tran, Former MP Alice Mahon quits 'undemocratic' Labour party, The Guardian, 18 April 2009
- Trevor Kavanagh, Only you can save us now, Darling, The Sun, 20 Apr 2009
- Where now for Labour bloggers? 24 April 2009