I've just watched Newsnight and its analysis of Gordon Brown's leadership woes. Michael Crick's piece focused on four potential candidates who might stand should Brown quit or be forced from office - David Miliband, Alan Johnson, Jack Straw or James Purnell. They also had Polly Toynbee saying that Brown should go now, while Steve Richards was saying that although Brown's been a rather poor Prime Minister, now wasn't the time to get rid of him.
However, all this assumes that Brown will either willingly give up the job he's craved all his life or that he can be forced to step down. I think both are highly unlikely.
Let's look at the latter first. What would it take to force him out? Well, under Labour Party rules, a leadership election when the party is in government can only take place if the party conference votes to hold an election. I really can't see the Labour Party being sufficiently panicked to go down that route.
Failing that, it is possible that Brown could be forced out if enough backbench MPs put their heads above the parapet, or if there was a mass resignation from the Cabinet. But that sort of bloodbath doesn't strike me as being a good basis for any new leader to take over and lead the party to recovery, or at least to a respectable showing at the subsequent general election.
So, could Brown be persuaded to stand down of his own accord? I doubt it. There are many similarities between Brown's government and John Major's administration - the lack of vision, the widespread feeling that the Prime Minister is out of his depth, the economic problems, the belief that the party has been in power too long, the sense that there's another political calamity always waiting around the corner, the loss of safe seats at by-elections, the feeling that no matter what happens the governing party is doomed to defeat.
But there is an important respect in which Brown differs from Major. In 1995, Major at least had the courage to put his own leadership on the line when he launched his 'put up or shut up' leadership election. Does anyone think Brown has the bottle to do anything like that? I thought not. This is the man who, only a year ago, engineered his way to an unopposed coronation to succeed Tony Blair, ensuring that even the token left-wing challenge to him was blocked. He's not a man who's particularly comfortable facing a challenge.
But even if Brown could be magically prised away from the leadership, would that make much difference to the Labour Party? Probably not. In 1995, Major faced a clear alternative in the shape of John Redwood and his aggressively Thatcherite Euro-sceptic programme. But none of the potential contenders to succeeed Brown offer much difference. Although Brown is a bit more unpopular than his party, what's remarkable about the Labour Party is that on the whole there aren't any great ideological divisions there, but nor are there any ideas about what the party could do differently. Sticking a new label on the tin ain't gonna make people buy it if there's a nasty smell coming from within. And the only smell coming from the Labour tin is one of decay.
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