David Blackburn

Swords around a throne

Swords around a throne
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The Sunday Times reports that the Cabinet is suggesting to Gordon Brown that he resign as Prime Minister, and that Labour goes into opposition against a weak Conservative government facing an unenviable economic task. The ‘Caretaker Prime Minister’ did not fly to Scotland to consider a re-shuffle, though that would have provided some light entertainment. And his swift return to London this afternoon suggests that Brown’s premiership is gasping its dying breaths.

With the exception of a brief lapse on the telephone, Brown’s conduct has been dignified in recent days. For once, he has led. Will he remain as Labour leader if he resigns as PM? He might; he's stubborn whilst the pretenders to his crown are lachrymose. Tactical considerations also favour Brown. Labour assumes that a formal Lib-Con coalition is unlikely and that Cameron will go it alone on a supply basis. Having spent months lambasting those who doubted Labour’s economic competence, Polly Toynbee has confided that the party is ecstatic to find itself in opposition as Armageddon approaches.  The Tories will be so unpopular and weak that Labour would have a chance the next election, which is presumably no more than 18 months away. Labour may not risk inflaming its opposing wings with time so short and previous political certainties now being so uncertain.

Brown will go though. Charles Clarke’s defeat is seismic in terms of Labour’s internal politics. The one MP capable of inciting an internecine war is in the wilderness and the Blairite rump seeks unity, not faction. It’s early in the dance but the difference between Labour’s discipline and that of the post-Major Tories is striking. Then again, Labour knows that it could return to government, imminently, of course it's united.

However, Labour leaders will not have liked what they saw on Andrew Marr this morning. Paddy Ashdown conceded that events in Greece “have concentrated the mind”. This can only mean that Clegg and Cable are coming round to Osborne’s thinking on the need to reduce the deficit to calm the markets. On Friday, I would’ve said that a Lib-Con pact was unthinkable; it's a little more likely this morning.