Today’s extraordinarily self-indulgent article by David Miliband in The Guardian – the one that doesn’t mention the Prime Minister once – may mark the beginning of the end for Gordon Brown. So what are we to make of it all? A few thoughts:
It’s difficult to feel sorry for Mr Brown. There is talk of mass resignations from the Labour frontbench if Brown doesn’t go voluntarily. This is reminiscent of the wave of PPS resignations that precipitated Blair’s resignation. The Brownites coordinated that wave. What goes around comes around, as they say. John Howard was threatened with mass resignations before last year’s
Australian elections and he called his critics’ bluff. He survived as
leader but was heavily defeated at the General Election.
Brown may not budge. It’s still quite possible that Brown won’t quit even if frontbenchers do resign. The one thing that the Brownites excel at is internal party warfare. Look out for strong briefing against Miliband appearing in the papers over the next few days.
What’s the hurry? Unless the new leader is prepared to hold an immediate General Election there isn’t much point changing the leader before next year’s local and European elections. Gordon Brown might as well take the heat for bad results from them.
Miliband-Johnson would face a challenge from Harriet Harman. Miliband-Johnson may be a dream team in the eyes of many Labour MPs but Jack Straw may also challenge for the leadership and Harriet ‘This is my moment’ Harman
will almost certainly run too. Her victory in last year’s deputy
leadership race showed that she has a lot of support among the party’s
grassroots. William Rees-Mogg argued on Monday
that a female leader is Labour’s only real chance to change the
political weather. A bloody, extended leadership race when the country
is facing economic challenges is likely to be resented by voters.
A third Labour PM cannot duck an election. For
change the PM twice without consulting voters would be contemptible.
There is a general acceptance that the British people will have to
approve any change of leader at a quick General Election.
A ‘suicide election’. Yesterday we noted a three-way squeeze for Labour at the next General Election: Conservatives to the right, LibDems to the left, SNP to the north. Labour insiders are beginning to fear wipe-out and Scotland on Sunday
wrote of a ‘suicide election’. In this scenario a new leader would not
go to the country in the expectation of victory but in the hope that
Labour would survive as a credibly-sized opposition, rather than
waiting until 2010 and losing masses of seats.
An election about the economy. The story isn’t
online but the News of the World wrote of Labour slashing taxes in a
bid to restore its popularity. A new Labour leader could go to the
country asking for affirmation of an economic stimulation package.
The Tories need to be ready. It is likely
that Labour will wound Brown but not dump him. But if he is replaced
the Tory leadership needs to have its programme for government ready.
An early election is no longer improbable.