Peter Hoskin

An air of resignation about Downing Street

An air of resignation about Downing Street
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When you step back and think about it, it's really quite astonishing how fast and how emphatically Brown has fallen since his minor 'bounce' in the autumn.  Sure, he was always going to struggle as the recession bit deeper and deeper.  But to so swiftly get to this point - where all news is bad news; where there is little salve or comfort; and where hope is dying from suffocation - really takes some doing.  Little wonder, then, that Labour now seems saturated by despair and self-loathing; something that's captured wonderfully by two comment pieces in today's papers.

The first is Andrew Rawnsley's article in the Observer, an essential portrait of life in the Downing Street bunker.  The story of cabinet ministers bickering in meetings - unable to nail down an approach to take over bankers' bonuses, unable to decide whether Brown should apologise or not - is bad enough.  But the final image - of Brown not saying "much at all" while all this goes on around him - suggests that this is a leader who no longer has any control, or who is resigned to his electoral fate.  It's far removed from the determined figure that the PM cut back in August.

And then there's John Rentoul's effort in the Independent on Sunday.  His suggestion that only Alan Johnson could "hold back" the Tories is one of the most prominent calls for a new leader, from the left, since Polly Toynbee was fêting David Miliband last year.  But Rentoul recognises the unlikelihood of it all, as he writes in his final paragraph:

"One cabinet minister recently ruled out another spasm of leadership speculation, telling me that it was the 'settled will' of the party that Brown would lead it into the election. I suspect that there is truth in that: that it is the settled will of the party that it will fight on with as much dignity as it can muster, but it is not actually going to do anything that might help save it from the impending crash."

I wouldn't be too surprised if this core tension - between the need and the reluctance to do something drastic - becomes the story of the Labour Party over the next 18 months.