The rumours from the comrades are of one last coup attempt against Gordon Brown in March. The Cabinet will tell him to go and install Alan Johnson. Whether this is likely to happen is open to doubt, given ministers’ gutlessness over the past 18 months, but readers may also wonder after all the non-plots and empty speculation they have lived through, why Labour should bother going through the pain of changing its leader.At present we seem to be heading for a small Tory majority or hung parliament, not a bad result from a Labour perspective. Labour will be able to harass an inexperienced Cameron government struggling to cope with a horrendous deficit, and under constant threat of defeat at the hands of its backbench climate deniers and Euro-sceptics, and bounce back in 2014.
But you can make an argument that Ministers need to act because there is at least a possibility that Cameron will be all-commanding because Brown is leading Labour to a landslide defeat that will take 10, maybe 15 years to recover from.
Here is my version of it
1. However often they change their methodology the polls habitually overestimate Labour support. Labour and the wider left do better in opinion polls than in real elections.
2. With loyalties to traditional parties in long-term decline and disillusion so widespread, more voters than ever will make up their minds during the election campaign.
3. Brown will be awful in the campaign. Throughout his career he has hidden from scrutiny preferring to operate in the dark and send out his luckless deputies to take the flak. As Prime Minister he will not be able to hide, and the voters will not like what they see. Douglas Alexander, once a Brown ally is meant to have said to a colleague
The truth is, Peter, we have spent ten years working with this guy, and we don’t actually like him. ‘We have always thought that the longer the British public had to get to know him, the less they would like him as well’.
4. Think what you will about his policies, David Cameron is a very good politician. Whenever he is on air, the Tory vote rises.
5. Same caveat about his policies, but Nick Clegg isn’t a bad politician either. Lib Dem support always rises in an election campaign anyway because the party gets the coverage the MSM normally denies it. This time around, Clegg will have the additional advantage of televised debates with Brown and Cameron in which Brown will be dreadful (see point 3). Ominously for Labour, Lib Dem votes are coming at their expense, while the Tory vote remains solid. In many marginal seats, a split opposition will allow the Tories to come through the middle.
5 Labour has a good story to tell but Brown can’t tell it. However critical you want to be about its management of Britain’s affairs before the crash, and I have been very critical, the Chancellor and the Bank of England have saved the country. David Cameron has been wrong about every major economic question – he did not even do what you would expect a Tory to do and warn about the deficit in the boom. Yet how can Labour emphasise its recent success while Brown remains as leader? For who was it who failed to regulate the banks, save money in good times and equip our troops to fight the Taliban? He is yesterday’s man haunted by a discreditable past.
As John Rentoul says
It is the Labour Party’s democratic duty to present the British people with the best possible alternative to David Cameron.
Gordon Brown is not it.
PS Oliver Kamm has a good account of how the Australian Labor Party ditched its unpopular leader on the eve of a general election and went on to confound the pundits by winning. But as Oliver points out, the Aussies are tough-minded while “the British Labour Party is a different animal. It’s astonishingly sentimental towards unsuccessful leaders. The leader it now has is not George Lansbury or Michael Foot, but he’s taking Labour towards electoral oblivion just as surely. Nor was this difficult to foresee. I hate to say I told you so, but I always said Gordon Brown had debased political life and would be a useless leader. The time to get rid of him is now
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