Smear tactics: the Roman Damian McBride
My friend and fellow Classicist Peter Jones beat me to it, I discover, with a comparison of ancient and modern tactics against piracy (you can still 'listen again' to him on the Today programme for a couple of days yet; go to the 8.50 slot).
He now urges me to ask whether the Caepio Crispinus, a delator (an 'informer' to follow the usual translation) in the reign of the emperor Tiberius, had something in common with smearer-in-chief Damian McBride.
The story goes like this (taken directly from Tacitus Annals I, 74). Crispinus had been on the staff of Granius Marcellus, governor of Bithynia. To insinuate himself into the emperor's favour and to attract the rewards that he hoped would come to someone who could exploit Tiberius' paranoia, he accused his ex-boss of telling scurrilous stories about the emperor (and given Tiberius' nasty habits that was all too plausible). His partner in smear, one Hispo, added that Marcellus had given his own statues greater prominence than Tiberius' and (a strange one this) removing the head of a statue of the emperor Augustus and replacing it with one of Tiberius.
Actually the plan misfired. To cut a rather longer story short, Tiberius (pictured above) thought this was all below the belt and was worried about the tale drawing attention to his own failings. So he voted against the conviction of Marcellus.
Was this a Damian McBride sort of incident, then?
Well, not exactly. It wasn't an attempt to smear the opposition with unsubstantiated fantasies (in fact the problem about the Marcellus case was that -- even if Marcellus himself was innocent -- the stories about Tiberius were probably all too true).
But McBride presumably was trying to ingratiate himself with the powers that be, just like Crispinus.
More to the point, the attempts by Tiberius (the Gordon Brown figure in the story) to distance himself from the smear tactics may (or may not) have been sincere, but they were hopelessly unsuccessful. The influence of the delatores only increased at the Roman court as the reign went on. However sincere Brown may (or may not) be about his distaste for the McBride form of politics, the chances are that smear tactics will continue unabated.
For more on this topic, keep an eye on Peter's Ancient and Modern column in The Spectator -- where he will be giving his own 'spin' on it all.