In every crisis of leadership, there are a few protagonists who matter much more than most: self-evidently, the Prime Minister’s spouse and core advisers, but also the holders of the great offices of state. The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has already announced her departure, triggering today’s spectacularly ill-timed mayhem. As James pointed out earlier
, Peter Mandelson handed the black spot to Alistair Darling in a BBC interview today and Gordon Brown conspicuously declined to use the future tense in his encomium of his Chancellor at PMQs. All seems to be in order for a new boss at the Treasury to be appointed in the forthcoming reshuffle and there is ever more frenzied speculation that Ed Balls is the PM’s candidate-of-choice. In his Mirror column today, the impeccably-connected Labour polemicist Kevin Maguire proposes Balls for Number 11 as if this was manifestly a good thing rather than the stick of political gelignite it would actually be.
Mr Brown should not underestimate the power of a Chancellor and Foreign Secretary who are on the same page. And – in this case – Mr Darling and David Miliband are said to be getting on very well and speaking amicably about the situation. Neither wants to move – and why should they? So Gordon could find himself faced with a nightmare on Friday or Monday when he reshuffles his Cabinet: two star players who dig in and decline to be shifted. Normally, that would be grounds for dismissal (when Norman Lamont refused a move from the Treasury to Defence, he was out). But these are not normal times, and the informal Darling-Miliband axis may well play a subtle but crucial part in the events of the next few days.