The signs are that Brown will not have a clear out straight after the elections; Downing Street fears that this would signal that the Prime Minister has hit the panic button. But the arguments for a dramatic reshuffle are sound. At the moment, the Chancellor and the Home Secretary are either not up to the job or incapable of successfully communicating Labour’s message. (Maybe, the same can be said of Brown. But there is no realistic alternative for Labour but to carry on under him; a governing party can not have three leaders in the same Parliament and remain credible). Alistair Darling and Jacqui Smith will have to go if the government is to get anywhere close to firing on all cylinders and so Brown should remove them now rather than waiting and setting off another round ‘government in crisis’ headlines at a later date.
Brown should have his three best communicators into the three top jobs. Jack Straw is an effective media performer and would be a credible Chancellor. Alan Johnson would be a perfect fit as Home Secretary, putting a more human face on this government. He’s also the only Labour figure who has a hope of steering 42 days through. David Miliband should stay at the Foreign Office but should be pushed forward more.
As for the rest of the cabinet, Liam Byrne is a natural fit for Justice and Constitutional Affairs. While Ed Miliband would give some intellectual dynamism to Labour’s health policy and show up just how dire the Tory trust the professionals’ approach is.
Once he has reshuffled, Brown should do a string of interviews with the TV news anchors admitting that he’s tried to run the government as he had the Treasury and that it hasn’t worked. Confessing this is dangerous, but Brown needs to show the public that things are going to change and admitting error—something he is not exactly prone to do—would signal that.
The good news for the Tories is that Brown is probably too risk-averse, and perhaps too proud, to do this. There are, obviously, risks in this approach. But if things go badly on Thursday, Brown will need to take risks to recover.