GORDON Brown’s recently departed aide Damian McBride could take some advice from the Mafia - never write things down.
The Sicilian "men of honour" are not foolish enough to leave a paper trail of their crimes. They don’t write: "Whack Jimmy on Tuesday" on a post-it note.
Mr McBride, who was the Prime Minister’s special advisor until Saturday, would still be in his job if he had the same kind of caution. But unfortunately for him, he didn’t.
Rather than merely talking to Labour blogger Derek Draper about smearing leading Conservatives, Mr McBride made the mistake of emailing his suggestions for fabricated stories about the Tories.
His planned smears included spreading rumours about Conservative leader David Cameron’s health and alleging that embarrassing photos existed of shadow chancellor George Osborne from his student days.
I’m not at all surprised that a senior government adviser should engage in such a scheme. But I am surprised that he had the utter stupidity to write down his "ideas" in an email and send it off into the ether of the Internet. Mr McBride deserved, more than anything else, to be sacked for idiocy.
By sending the email, Mr Brown’s senior advisor showed a shocking lack of self-awareness that is becoming all too common in Government circles. You can see it too in the row about MPs’ expenses, with ministers like Jacqui Smith and Tony McNulty apparently oblivious to how their "second" home claims will be perceived by voters struggling to pay their bills.
From my vantage point 200 miles from the Westminster bubble, I see these as signs of a government unravelling.
These last few months have had more than a few echoes of the last sleaze-filled days of the Tory government of the 1990s. Perhaps there comes a point when a party has simply been in power too long, when stupid mistake follows stupid mistake.
And maybe the McBride affair also shows that the Labour Party has run out of ideas. Way behind in the polls and facing a drubbing at the next general election, Mr McBride’s solution was to go negative, to make up stories about the opposition rather than present a convincing case for why his party should have a fourth term.
Gordon Brown has tried to draw a line under the affair by dispensing with his long-time adviser. But it will not be that easy for him.
When he came to power two years ago the Prime Minister was initially popular largely because, unlike his predecessor, he wasn’t obsessed with his own image. The days of spin were over, we were told. Though maybe that was just spin.
Mr Brown’s greatest asset was his authenticity, the fact that he was socially-awkward and policy-obsessed. After years of ham-acting from Tony Blair, this was a breath of fresh air.
But the air has long since gone stale.
There’s a nasty whiff about Number 10, and I think it might be the smell of a dying government.