Martin Bright

Labour Leadership Speculation is Back with a Vengeance

Labour Leadership Speculation is Back with a Vengeance
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Rachel Sylvester's column today provides more than the usual share of insight and high-level gossip -- what more do you want from a political columnist?

The following paragraph is devastating about the Prime Minister's handling of the Megrahi affair:

"Even members of the Cabinet who remain publicly loyal are privately scathing about Mr Brown’s performance in recent days. “We can’t go on like this,” says one minister. “It’s beyond difficult — it’s farcical. We’re going from one fiasco to another and Government by fiasco doesn’t work. I’ve never been a plotter but I feel total exasperation."

Rachel is right to say that this is the Labour Party's Groundhog Day.  As we enter the conference season all talk is of plots, conspiracies and coups. The difference compared with last year is that there is no obvious "Prince-in-Waiting" whose ambitions need to be crushed and no "Prince-of-Darkness" to ride to the rescue.

Jackie Ashley wrote yesterday of Labour "semi-stunned amble to the slaughterhouse". Today Polly Toynbee suggests a programme of political boldness, but drips with pessimism about the outcome:

"There is nothing left to lose. High risks, high principles and high ideals might just save them now -- and certainly preserve enough respect to live to fight another day. What's the alternative? Quarrelling dishonestly into the salami-slicer over which party will cut what most, each pretending we can have it all when everyone knows its a lie?"

The left is in almost  complete disarray. This is why the intervention of Jon Cruddas this week is so significant. As The Observer reported at the weekend, Cruddas is now taking on "the leadership" of the party directly. His Compass speech today could be seen as something of a watershed, if, as I suspect, it is the beginning of a Cruddas/Compass move for control of the soul of the party.

Cruddas's argument is clear and appeals directly to the party's grassroots. The Conservatives have revealed themselves over the summer as the Thatcherites they always really were, but the Labour government has failed to capitalise on this, he argues.

The Labour Party still has the ability to win the election, but it needs to get its message right or it will deserve to go down to a catastrophic defeat. This is as close as Cruddas has yet come to throwing down of the gauntlet. Now that would be an interesting challenge -- and not as easy to put down as David Miliband or even Alan Johnson.