As one of the few Cabinet members who doesn't come across as a complete and total arse, I haven't actually mentioned Alan Johnson on this blog before. But he's been given the unenviable task of explaining why Gordon Brown doesn't need to apologise for the smear e-mails sent from Downing Street, and as a result he now gets his first mention. This morning he said:
"There is no place for this in British politics and Gordon Brown has made that clear. You couldn't have been clearer or more forthright and the special adviser involved resigned. (Note: actually, it would have been much more forthright if Brown had fired him, rather than letting him resign.) Gordon is not responsible for every single person who works for him, for what they do in their own time."
Unfortunately, he kind of is. What they do in their own time is, admittedly, not Brown's concern. But since the e-mails from McBride came from his Downing Street account, he was clearly using the resources and facilities of his employer to do it. I very much doubt that this counts as doing it on his own time. But what Johnson - and Brown, for that matter - needs to understand, is the concept of vicarious liability. This essentially makes everything employees do while 'on the job' the responsibility of their employers, providing what they do is authorised, or considered part of an authorised act. Now, while Brown claims to have known nothing about this particular website, we also know that McBride was his chief spin doctor, attack dog, and political bully. It is part of his job to think of ways to spin for Brown and Labour, and it is part of his job to think of lines of attack to use against opponents. While he was a civil servant, he was exempt from some of the political restrictions that prevent most of them from doing this sort of thing. So while Brown may not have known about this particular website, the fact that producing it came under McBride's general remit means that Brown is very much responsible for it.