Thursday, 28 May 2009

Is time running out for Gordon Brown?

An almost unbelievable leader article in today's Times. It is headlined "The Choice for Labour" and has the subtitle
"The Labour party is about to suffer a serious electoral defeat. The Cabinet now has a big decision to make - whether or not to act"
Do go and read the whole piece but here are some key extracts:
"A week today the country goes to the polls for European and local elections that will almost certainly result in an historic drubbing for Gordon Brown's Labour Party.

The likelihood is that Labour will end up at best as loser and at worst as a laughing stock... The vital choice lies with his Cabinet colleagues. This, if they choose to seize it, is their moment.

The likes of John Denham and Jack Straw, David Miliband and James Purnell, John Hutton and Hazel Blears, Geoff Hoon and Alistair Darling must spend the next week asking themselves what they will do in the event of a shattering defeat. Mr Denham has grown tired of being promised funds that never materialise. Mr Miliband and Mr Purnell are exasperated at being regular victims of the self-harming tendencies of Downing Street briefings. Ms Blears has not been the only member of the Cabinet to have something to say about the Prime Minister's performance on YouTube. Mr Darling has made his frustration plain, in private at least, about being made to sell plans handed to him by his next-door neighbour. It is open to them to translate these private frustrations into public action. The fact is that Cabinet members have the power and, within a few days, the opportunity to change Labour's course and they now has to decide.

They could choose action. This would involve a Cabinet minister (or ministers) resigning, voicing in public the frustration with Mr Brown's leadership that is common currency among them. Senior resignations would trigger a leadership contest that, with the slightly mysterious emergence of Alan Johnson as the likely winner, would lead in short order to a general election.

The disadvantage of this course is that the electorate may punish a party that changed its leader for a second time in the course of a single Parliament. It may be that every potential assassin fears the charge of disloyalty. But the advantages suddenly look very marked...

Of course, Cabinet members may choose not to act. This would involve closing ranks around Mr Brown on the ground that economic recovery will provide a political dividend...

The question is now whether any of them is prepared to act. For a long while they have steadfastly maintained, at least in public, that the cost of removing the Prime Minister from office was greater than the benefit. Perhaps the verdict of the electorate will steel one or more of them to speak the truth about power. But doing nothing is itself a choice. Either way, Labour's future is not just Mr Brown's but the Cabinet's collective responsibility. "

I am not sure what the Cabinet will do after the EU and local elections. The result will be dire for Labour; they will almost certainly finish with less of the popular vote than the Lib Dems. Rumours that UKIP might overtake Labour are widespread but in my view unlikely, although if that was the result then Gordon Brown's Labour party would be humiliated and all hell could be let loose within the Labour party.

Let us assume for a moment that Labour finish a poor third, maybe with less than 18% of the popular vote, what then? Could Gordon Brown fight back with just a reshuffle? If bringing back David Blunkett is the answer then what is the question? Would any of the current Cabinet have the courage to openly challenge the Great Clunking Fist? Would Jack Straw and Peter Mandelson wield their knives in private and persuade Gordon Brown that time is up? Would a "big beast" no longer in the Cabinet have to stand as a stalking horse? Is Charles Clarke a "big beast" or just big? Would Jack Straw stand as a temporary "safe pair of hands" candidate? Would he do that just for the ex-Prime Minister extra pension? Would Alan Johnston stand in a leadership election after saying he wasn't up to the job? Does David Miliband really think he could be Prime Minister? Is Ed Balls so deluded that he thinks the British public could imagine him as Prime Minister? Does Harriet Harman really think? If Gordon Brown does get replaced by a new man/woman/Ed Balls how long could they realistically delay calling a general election? Does the new leader really want to go into history as the man/woman/Ed Balls who lead Labour to their worst ever election defeat? Who really wants to be portrayed as a bigger electoral liability than Michael Foot?

Many, many questions all of which may be answered over the next few months; it will be interesting?

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