Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Should he stay...

Standard political wisdom seems to be veering towards the belief that Gordon Brown is not long for this world, and that an attempt to oust him will be made at some point, with opinion divided as to whether Miliband or Straw (or an A.N.Other of varying plausibility) will be the beneficiary of such a move. Steve Richards poses the two essential questions that Labour MPs must ask themselves before they try to push the button on the Brown premiership:

If I were a Labour MP, I would note the polls, all of which suggest the Tory lead is soft and that almost as many voters identify with Labour as they do with the Conservatives. There has been no fundamental sea change and, as the last year has shown, fortunes can shift dramatically. I would then pose a question: In these wildly oscillating times would a new leadership team of David Miliband and Alan Johnson have a honeymoon, with a chance of propelling Labour into a poll lead? Next, I would note that in spite of the onslaught against him Mr Brown is best placed by far with his experience to address the pivotal economic questions. I would then ask a second question: Will voters credit Mr Brown with anything as long as he remains Prime Minister? Mr Brown's fate hangs on the answer to these two questions.

The answer to the second question is surely no. Brown has lost the benefit of the doubt, and is now getting the blame for pretty much everything, whether he deserves it or not. This has not been helped, incidentally, by his habit of disowning the blame for things he is very much responisible for. It is the first question that is more difficult to answer. Is Straw, or Miliband (or Harman, Purnell, Burnham, Uncle Tom Milburn and all) really likely to prove a better leader than Brown? Not better in the sense of less uncommunicative, gloomy or weird, but better in the sense of reversing the polling situation - which, with regular Tory leads of 20 points and more is less amenable to a positive interpretation than Richards suggests. Because if there is a leadership struggle, and a new leader is chosen, the argument for a quick following election becomes almost undeniable.

If the current polling were to be reflected in a General Election, the Labour Party would be drastically reduced - to 172 seats by today's Electoral Calculus - and that's a lot of MPs losing their jobs. It may in fact be better for the Labour Party to go early, in a managed decline that might avoid a total wipeout, but try to persuade some 200 Labour MPs that it is better for the good of the Party that they lay down their seats and see how far you get. In the knowledge that an election now would be disastrous Labour MPs would probably prefer to sit tight a la Micawber and hope that something turns up.
So, I'm with Boris on this - despite the fact that Labour are utterly and definitely doomed to heavy defeat with Gordon Brown as leader, they will stick with it to the bitter end, rather than risk a premature immolation under a new leader. A mixture of short-termist self-interest and apathy is likely to keep Gordon secure in his post until he is finally put out of his misery by the electorate.

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