After David Cameron's director of communications Craig Oliver unwisely accused Ed Miliband of giving "succour" to the Assad regime by forcing the government to promise a second vote on Syria after the UN weapons inspectors have reported, Labour has written a letter of complaint to Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, and has called for Oliver to apologise and withdraw the "infantile and irresponsible" remark.
Asked whether Miliband was giving succour to the Assad regime, Oliver said: "Yes. The fact is that a lot of the arguments over this could give succour to the regime." In response, Michael Dugher, the party's vice chair, wrote to Heywood:
You will have noticed reports the director of government communications Craig Oliver has described the leader of opposition as giving 'succour to Assad'. It is language which is infantile and irresponsible.
It follows a pattern of behaviour by 10 Downing Street through recent days which demeans the office of prime minister. It is particularly disappointing given the serious nature of today's debate and the fact that throughout the country people will be listening with great concern about events in Syria, some knowing their relatives could soon be involved in military action.
We ask that Mr Oliver apologises and withdraws the remark. In view of the public interest in this matter we are releasing this letter to the media.
The clash is further evidence of how high tensions are running. Today's Times quoted one government source as saying: "No 10 and the Foreign Office think Miliband is a fucking cunt and a copper-bottomed shit." It is worth remembering, as I noted earlier this week, that not since Suez has there been a bipartisan split on a matter of peace and war.