Smear scandal adds to Brown's headaches

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Gordon Brown, trying to calm down another political scandal while he grapples with a financial crisis, said on Monday government advisers caught smearing opposition politicians should be fired.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown (R) walks with special advisor Damian McBride during the Labour Party Conference in Manchester, northern England in this September 21, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Brown’s comment followed the resignation of a close adviser, Damien McBride, who was caught proposing a campaign of slurs to embarrass senior Conservatives and their wives before a general election.

Facing calls to make a personal apology, Brown wrote to Britain’s most senior civil servant Sir Gus O’Donnell urging tighter rules on the conduct of political advisers.

He said he had written to those mentioned in McBride’s emails, believed to include Conservative Party leader David Cameron and his treasury spokesman George Osborne.

“Any activity such as this that affects the reputation of our politics is a matter of great regret to me and I am ready to take whatever action is necessary to improve our political system,” Brown said in the letter to O’Donnell, released by his office.

A spokesman for Cameron said in a statement that the opposition leader “welcomes the prime minister’s letter and that he has finally recognised the gravity of what has been happening in Downing Street.”

Brown said political advisers should be asked to sign an assurance “to recognise that if they are ever found to be preparing and disseminating inappropriate material they will automatically lose their jobs”

The scandal is a blow to Brown who was enjoying a bounce in opinion polls after what was seen as a successful stewardship of this month’s summit of G20 leaders in London on combating the global financial crisis.

Polls show the Conservatives leading Labour by at least seven points as Brown tackles the crisis, a recession and rising unemployment.

The Labour government is already facing questions over MPs’ expenses, including Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who submitted an expense claim for porn films viewed by her husband. She says it was a mistake.

The Conservatives have seized on the opportunity presented by the smear scandal to play up the impression of a government in disarray before a general election, which must be held within the next 14 months.

They said the episode showed Brown’s Labour government had broken its promise to end the culture of news management or “spin” for which his predecessor, Tony Blair, was heavily criticised. Brown took over from Blair nearly two years ago.

Conservative lawmaker Nadine Dorries, who was also mentioned in the emails, rejected suggestions that Brown was unaware of McBride’s activities.

“In the real world, a boss is responsible for the actions of his employees...he (McBride) takes his instructions directly from the prime minister, he reports to the prime minister,” she told Sky News.

Reporting by Frank Prenesti; Editing by Angus MacSwan