My God, British Labour — if it were a dog, you’d dig a hole for it, then beat it to death with the shovel (why waste a bullet?). No sooner had they “weathered” the storm around parliamentary expenses — concluded in fine fashion with revelations that former defence minister Geoff Hoon had three homes (constituency house, London flat, free flat in Admiralty Arch) — than they got a traditional Easter, ie they were crucified on the basis of a few rumours.

The rumours, however, were theirs — they came from Gordon Brown’s principal knee-capper, Damian McBride, an advisor whose long-standing brief has been to remove and destroy Brown’s enemies within the Labour party. With the polls so bad that even Brown has to turn away from infighting, McBride was asked to contribute some ideas of possible Tory scandals that could be leaked. McBride came up with rumours that David Cameron had once been to an STD clinic while at university, that 12-year-old shadow treasurer George Osborne had been photographed with a hooker (and that there was more to the story than that …), and that waste-of-space Tory MP Nadine Dorries, a glammish blonde d’un certain age, (whom newspapers scrambled to find photos of in a pearl necklace), had had an illicit affair.

Cheap and nasty stuff. The sort of thing that — if you used it all — you’d pass on with a whisper to someone in the bar. But all these people are glued to their iPhones, which allows them to be both gossipy and isolated from other humans. Thus McBride fired the stuff off as an email, which promptly fell into the in-tray of Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes, a Tory gossip blogger who sports a V-for-Vendetta ‘tache and beard, rounding out the air of unreality in the whole thing.

McBride was promptly sacked, Cameron did the “shocked and disgusted demand an apology dance”, and Gordon Brown offered a statement of “regret” over what this sort of thing did to people’s faith in politics a ha ha ha ha ha ha. He even sent handwritten notes to those defamed in the emails (the Evening Standard reported that these were only partly legible) and Cameron said that he was still “irritated”. Well, he would be, wouldn’t he, if the thrush is still hanging around? He’s probably got a whole fungus-compost thing going in his pants. Talk about your green conservatism.

What makes the story even more interesting than your usual stuff-up is the bloke McBride was supplying the rumours to — Derek “Dolly” Draper, Labour’s semi-self-appointed internet guru. A man charged with matching the impressive array of blogs and sites (ConservativeHome, Iain Dale’s Diary, Guido Fawkes and a few others) that younger Tories developed in the years when the party was withering on the vine. Labour, in its late delusional style, also fancied itself worthy companions to the Obama campaign who had spent three years building up a multi-million member network of support and thought it could knock one up in a weekend.

When you think delusional, you think Derek Draper. In the late 90s, Draper, one of new Labour’s 20-something spin doctors, was the very symbol of the breezy cynicism by which, we were assured, Labour would achieve all the things that older, slower types imagined was done by dogged persistence. Draper had been scooped up from student politics in the early 90s by Peter Mandelson, after the latter had been impressed by the way he’d staged a boring political talk (the lights rose slowly and Mandelson ascended via a stage riser in a trapdoor, apparently).

After Labour’s ’97 victory, Draper was in hog heaven, never off TV (where he would give live demonstrations of political spinning, which seemed to defeat the purpose) and in the swim — boasting to one contact that there were only “17 people who mattered, and I know all of them”.

Unfortunately, the bloke he was boasting to was Greg Palast, a US investigative journalist pretending to be an energy industry lobbyist looking for a sweetheart deal. The resulting scandal took the bloom off New Labour’s rose and Draper was ejected from the vital centre of power — after which he went completely bonkers, becoming a radio presenter until he did a live-cross from an Amsterdam brothel, later clarifying that he “didn’t impale”.

He disappeared for years after this and everyone presumed — when they thought of him at all — that he would pop up occasionally like Steve Strange, the forlorn pioneer of the New Romantic movement who now lives in a council flat in north London, occasionally apprehended shoplifting a pack of frozen peas. And then after a couple of years there he was. Out of a quiet back room job? Just finished a political monograph? Some UN assignment?

No, he’d become a psychotherapist. Hard to convey the shock of this, but imagine if you went in for a colonoscopy, and Graham Richardson was there in scrubs, holding the probe and smiling. Yeah, like that. By dint of his media contacts, Draper managed to parlay himself — a junior therapist with a small private practice, (attended by people who actively want life advice from a failed professional liar, thus confirming that, yes, they do need help) and no published research — into the go-to guy for wisdom on matters of the mind.

Even the revelation that he had falsified his CV (he had studied not at Berkeley, but in Berkeley, at some above-a-pharmacist’s night school) did not alert people to the obvious fact that this pathological narcissist had simply metamorphasised after a period of cocooning and his friends had soon smuggled him back into the heart of Labour with the nostrum that “Derek’s changed you know”.

The resulting dodged up website — Labour List, laughably described as an “independent grassroots network” — wasn’t much, and pride of place (the top right of centre spot on screen where your eye strays first) was a hyperlink to Draper’s own psychotherapy blog, but still people didn’t get it. They followed Dolly all the way to the end — his plan to set up a shadow “RedRag” site, where the rumours he’d been soliciting from Labour insiders would be displayed to a waiting world.

How was it that, through all this, there was no-one in the entire apparatus to point out that the party’s future and reputation had been put in the hands of a man who had wrecked it once, and whose response to critics was “clearly you haven’t had therapy yet”? Partly because Labour is leaderless and divided into feuding camps as defeat looms, but also because the party has so lost touch with reality that they can no longer tell fantasists from people of genuine purpose.

After all, they had met their greatest success under a delusional narcissist — the only man in history with the godknowswhat to restart the Crusades, and then develop a foundation for interfaith dialogue. Draper had all the same moves, the bright-eyed bubbling enthusiasm and self-belief, the enthusiasm for the modern etc etc.

Poor New Labour. It never had a chance against Derek Draper, who knew, as does every seducer, that it is all about latching onto a target at a point of rock-bottom self-esteem, when reality and fantasy become a false dichotomy. Even a remedial reader of the human heart would have understood that Draper’s one aim in life was to return to the site of his disaster and wreck things all over again — revenge against the party he had grown up in, for their temerity in continuing to prosper, or even exist, without him.

Meanwhile, London schools are using their substitute teacher money to hire registered bouncers, yes bouncers, to watch classes — the only way to cover absenteeism with stretched budgets. After 12 years of a Labour government. Still, nothing that a bit of dirt can’t fix, eh?

Peter Fray

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