LONDON – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized on Thursday for offensive emails about top opposition figures sent by one of his most influential aides, as the government tried to limit fallout before next week's budget.
Adviser Damian McBride was forced to quit on Saturday and the scandal has threatened to wipe out any opinion poll boost Brown may have got from a G20 summit in London when he brokered a $1.1 trillion support plan for the global economy.
It also leaves Brown without one of his most trusted, and feared, aides in what is likely to prove a bitter election campaign next year. An election must take place by mid-2010 and Brown's Labour Party is floundering in polls.
I'm sorry about what happened, Brown said on a visit to Glasgow.
When I saw this first I was horrified, I was shocked and I was very angry indeed. The person who was responsible went immediately, said Brown.
I take full responsibility for what happened. Now we've got to get to the business of getting this country through the most difficult times.
Unfounded smears about opposition Conservative Party leader David Cameron and his economics spokesman George Osborne that McBride sent to a Labour Internet campaigner were made public by a blogger last week.
The affair provoked outrage for their lurid nature and because Brown promised to end so-called political spin when he assumed power from Tony Blair in 2007 after a decade as finance minister.
Labor ON BACKFOOT
While McBride's resignation was swift, the scandal spilled over from the Easter weekend with calls for an apology and explanation from Brown pouring out from across the political spectrum -- even from within his own party.
It's come a little late this apology -- it's a shame we had to ask for it, Osborne told BBC radio. Of course there's rough and tumble in politics and you get very used to it if you're in the front line of politics, but this went way beyond that.
The Conservatives have also been trying unsuccessfully to force Brown to say sorry to voters for Britain's first recession since the early 1990s. Brown says the recession stems from the global credit crunch that began in the U.S. subprime market.
Brown will be hoping his apology will draw a line under the affair in time to turn attention back to Wednesday's budget, which is already shaping up to be one of the most gloomy in decades given the economic slump and soaring public debt.
Many Labour activists are looking to Brown and his finance minister Alistair Darling to use the budget to lay the foundations not only for an economic recovery, but also a political one for the party.