Listening to that news bulletin, dominated as it was by the scandal of Mr Damian McBride and his vile emails, I could not help thinking how fortunate I was to be be, both literally and metaphorically, hundreds of miles away from such a well of poison. Politics does not need to be like that and most of the time it is not. But there is always enough of it around to turn what should be a noble and uplifting experience into a source of unhappiness and paranoia. Mr McBride and others of his species have a lot to answer for.
They are not attached exclusively to any one party or leader but to the prospect of power and influence. However, the problem for – or rather with – Gordon Brown is that he has always had a coterie of them around him. How specifically they were licensed to act on his behalf, as opposed to being given a general freelance role to serve his perceived interests, has long been a matter of contention.
The only abnormality about the McBride affair is that his proposed smears were to be directed against the Tories. For as long as I was in politics, and I am sure it has not changed, most of this kind of activity was directed against Labour colleagues who, however improbably, had been branded as enemies of, or potential rivals to, Gordon. That operation predated the Blair leadership but was sustained with ruthless efficiency throughout it.
Over the past few days, these inconvenient truths have been endlessly written and spoken about in the media. But someone should be asking searching questions of the people who are now so anxious to tell us that they have known for years how McBride and his cronies operated – briefing viciously and always, of course, anonymously against anyone who attracted their displeasure.
They could only get away with this, year after year, because the same media were prepared not only to protect their anonymity but also to spread their poison. I have always taken the view that if a partisan politician (or adviser) briefs against a colleague (or opponent), the only matter of public interest lies in who is doing the briefing, rather than in what is being said about the intended victim.
The argument used against this simple dictum has been that journalists are obliged to protect sources – a high-minded principle which, in this context, is also utter rubbish. The protection of sources should apply, without compromise, to people who have put themselves at risk to bring matters of legitimate interest into the public domain. To confuse that noble principle with the protection of ghastly sneaks like McBride is self-serving nonsense. And the whole dirty business of anonymous briefing against people could be brought to an end overnight if it was made clear that anonymity is no longer guaranteed. That is indeed one very good thing that could and should come out of this squalid affair.
That hackneyed old phrase about your enemies aren't on the other side, they're behind you seems rather apt, all of a sudden, doesn't it?