By Gaby Hinsliff, Political Editor of the Observer
"Mission accomplished", ran the brief message posted around 5pm yesterday on Guido Fawkes's blog, next to a picture of the recently departed Damian McBride. For once, it was not hyperbole. Yesterday marked the British blogosphere's first big political scalp, and the day political new media in the UK came of age.
Just as the Drudge Report forced US politicians to take notice when it broke the story of Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, Fawkes beat the traditional media to a scoop and developed it faster than broadcasters and traditional newspapers could keep up. Now politicians on all sides will be examining the consequences for some time to come.
Tim Montgomerie, the mild-mannered committed Christian who founded conservativehome.org, is very different to the maverick Fawkes - his website specialises in intelligent debate on policy issues interesting to Tories - but as one of the "big three" political bloggers alongside Fawkes and Iain Dale he regards the weekend's events as "a very big deal, unquestionably".
The new media, he argues, don't play by "lobby rules" - the conventions governing journalists operating through the authorised system at Westminster - and are thus increasingly likely to uncover damaging scandals.
"We are not treated to private briefings, there is no element of chumminess and no sense of trading of favours. We are completely outside the club and it is that status that means the new media aren't easy to reason with. It's a pioneer, frontier media," he says.
He admits that sometimes the blogging pioneers - untroubled by fears of libel and unchecked by subeditors or lawyers - also get it "badly wrong". And while Fawkes has denied that money changed hands for the leaked emails, the buccaneering spirit combined with lack of regulation can also encourage dubious tactics.
Nonetheless, this weekend the bloggers have been more than a match for two of the Labour party's most effective communicators. So how did Draper and McBride get so outmanoeuvred?
Draper is fond of saying that when he started out in blogging last year, he did not know his RSS from his elbow, and he was certainly wrong-footed by the bitterly personal and vindictive world of the blogosphere.
Of more than 50 responses on his own LabourList website yesterday within hours of Draper posting his version of events, "vile", "arrogant" and "bullying" were some of the more printable terms used about him: over at Fawkes, Draper and McBride are described as "vermin" and "fucking numpties" in users' comments.
It was this kind of damaging language about Labour politicians that a frustrated Draper wanted to combat last autumn when he set up LabourList - and, it is now clear, when he secretly discussed setting up RedRag. What he did not seem to understand is the rules of the game.
Political blogs are a mix of the courtly (they acknowledge a story taken from another blogger by crediting the source with a "hat tip", for example) and the toxic, with bitter feuds regularly erupting between players. Both tactics actually help boost readership, by encouraging casual surfers to hop between sites or raising the profile of both sides in a spat.
Draper took to this game with gusto, prompting a gentle warning from the Labour blogger and ex-transport minister Tom Harris earlier this year against his "continuing and ugly feuds with Guido Fawkes and Iain Dale".
But his mistake was, when challenged directly about claims that his feuds were being politically directed by No 10, to deny it when the email exchange now suggests otherwise. "He denied to my face two weeks ago that these emails existed," says Dale.
Draper also forgot that online, video counts for a thousand words: Tory bloggers took appropriate revenge yesterday by posting a YouTube video of him denying in a television interview previous allegations that Downing Street had helped orchestrate his arguments.
Fawkes's suggestion in interviews yesterday that Labour tactics of "smearing, pouring poison in journalists' ears" were now over may be taken with a pinch of salt - Labour bloggers point out that Fawkes's own website regularly carries unproven innuendo. Nonetheless the affair probably marks the end of Labour retaliating in kind.
Alex Hilton, the blogger behind the grassroots site labourhome.org and Recess Monkey, perhaps the left's nearest equivalent to Guido Fawkes, says Labour does need more firepower online but hasn't yet worked out how to use it: "It's good that they now understand there is something that needs to be understood. But bad that they don't understand what it is."
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