Well-placed sources told PRWeek there was mounting fear in the heart of Downing Street that fresh revelations about senior MPs could emerge over the next few weeks and months leading up to the general election.
Brown’s close lieutenants such as Ed Balls, Tom Watson and Ian Austin are all believed to be vulnerable.
It is feared fresh tales could be revealed by the handful of journalists who have in the past been fed negative stories by the Brown camp – or that stories could emerge as a result of further emails that were sent to Labour blogger Derek Draper being made public.
One Downing Street insider said there had been ‘endless conference calls and crisis meetings’ since the story of McBride’s plans to smear senior Tories broke on Saturday.
The source added: ‘This is a full on disaster for Gordon – Downing Street is in meltdown. But it is more of a problem for Brown’s inner circle than it is for the Government more broadly.
‘The great fear of Brownites is that all of their activities over many years are suddenly now at risk of spilling out. It is an open secret that Gordon’s operation has been carrying out character assassinations, leaking documents and briefing against ministers and so on, but nobody has ever caught them red handed – until now. Now they have been caught out, it becomes legitimate to talk about all the other occasions.
‘It is a bit like getting Al Capone on his tax returns; it is actually one relatively minor misdemeanour – by no means are those emails the worst thing that Brown’s operation has ever done.’
Another source with close links to Downing Street said the PM’s defence was looking increasingly fragile: ‘Brown has had to stake his defence on this being a rogue operation, a single aberration that nobody else knew anything about.
‘The worry is that someone will produce evidence that it went much wider than this handful of emails and it went much wider than McBride.’
Hacks dish the dirt
‘The media… may not have known the detail of the nasty smears about senior Conservatives that McBride was dreaming up, but we knew about the smears against his own side.’
Alice Miles, The Times, 15 April
‘From time to time, [McBride] would send a text making some crude attack on one of Brown’s enemies. It was the kind of thing that would leave me and other political correspondents mumbling: He can’t go on like this.’
James Blitz, FT, 14 April
'Shortly before a presenter was about to interview a cabinet minister, McBride texted him with the message: Ask him about
his drinking problem.’
Steve Richards, The Independent, 14 April
4 Tory MPs targeted for smears
3 Number of people who received McBride’s email
13 Number of weeks ago the email was sent
34 Age of Damian McBride
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