Sunday, 7 June 2009

A crucial 48 hours

If Gordon Brown is removed as prime minister, he will arguably be the first holder of the office to be brought down by a media led campaign. The heads of individual ministers have been secured in the past, but this will be a far more significant scalp.

Of course, the media is reflecting a wider public disquiet. It is a long time since I can recall a prime minister being booed in public other than at an organised demonstration which is what happened at the D-Day celebrations yesterday.

So why do so many people dislike Gordon Brown so much? Is it because they see him as responsible for the recession or his policies for dealing with it as fundamentally flawed? Probably not. Brown is certainly a much less effective communicator than Tony Blair, but does this explain the extent and depth of the dislike?

Probably he would not be in the position he is if it had not been for the expenses scandal. Expenses are the collective responsibility of the House of Commons and the political class more generally, but it happened on Gordon Brown's watch.

We now wait the results of the European Parliament elections. They are going to be bad for Labour, but how bad? A share of the popular vote below 20 per cent or coming fourth would renew calls for Brown to go. Labour is likely to come third, but I doubt whether they will come fourth, as the Liberal Democrats have been taking a battering, particularly in areas where they have seats to defend against the Conservatives. This has largely escaped comment, but could be important in the context of a general election result. Whether Labour will get less than 20 per cent of the vote is harder to forecast, but it is certainly possible.

If Brown is forced out it will not be because of the Parliamentary Labour Party. The idea that seventy of them could organise themselves to nominate a credible alternative candidate stretches credulity. Also, the left of the party is rallying behind Brown, as they see the attempt to oust him as Blairite in origin, although they realise that there is little real ideological difference between Brown and Blair.

The blow, if it comes, would be some like Jack Straw, who has no credible ambitions of his own saying to Gordon Brown, 'I have loyally supported you, but we have now reached a point where your continued leadership is damaging beyond repair.' That point has not yet been reached, but we may yet do so. The next 48 hours will be crucial.

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