David Cameron was reportedly ‘furious’. In truth, the former special adviser and corporate press officer was delighted that Number 10 could make such a gaffe.
The tabloids expressed their shock – the same journalists who routinely dig out sleaze and scandal about figures in public life.
Maybe I have become cynical over the years, but I certainly wasn’t shocked. Barely even surprised.
But are the voters even that outraged? Do they not watch the political satires? Do they not read the memoirs of politicians and spin doctors?
We all know politics is personal. We all know it is fierce, often dirty. How do we think Paul Staines got hold of Damian McBride’s offending email in the first place?
Don’t get me wrong. This is not to condone such behaviour. Far from it. McBride’s actions smack of hubris and poor judgment – and of a coterie that has been at the centre of power for too long. They also – as Alex Hilton writes in his column on this page – indicate fingers that are no longer on the pulse of the new media and cultural landscape.
No, it does not really shock the media or much of the public, but it does reinforce their worst fears about those who purportedly run the country.
Special advisers cost the taxpayer millions of pounds each year. They must be seen to be professional and ethical in the same way that the thousands of PRWeek readers are expected to behave. Even more importantly, they must be astute and in touch with the national mood.
More fundamentally, this episode once again casts aspersions on Gordon Brown’s judgment. Just when things had stabilised in the Number 10 comms operation, and in the warm afterglow of the G20 summit, we are reminded of the dark days of last summer.
This could be Brown’s opportunity to jettison finally the dead wood from his team and establish a truly modern, professional comms operation.
But is it too late?