As we all await ten o’clock (and there’ll be full coverage on Coffee House if anything kicks off then) and the second editions of the paper to see where the plot stands, it is worth looking at the best and worst conclusions to the Labour leadership crisis for the two main parties:
Worst for Labour, best for the Tories: Brown stays as PM but bottles out of moving Darling. The result: a lame duck PM and a lame duck Chancellor. The Tories would love facing a Chancellor who clearly doesn’t have the confidence of the Prime Minister and a Prime Minister who was too weak to reshuffle as he wanted to.
Best for Labour, worst for the Tories: Brown is forced out as the Cabinet reshuffle collapses around him. Alan Johnson is crowned Labour leader and easily puts together a Cabinet with jobs for Balls and other prominent Brownites as well as returns for some of the talent on the Labour backbenches. The departure of Brown presents Labour with one last chance to reconnect with the electorate.
If we end up with Brown as PM and Balls as Chancellor, I think we’re on the same political trajectory as now: heading for a Labour defeat and a decent Tory majority. If we have the Lame Duck Ministry then we could be heading for a spectacular Tory win.
But if Johnson pulls it off, then the kaleidoscope will have been shaken and no one can be sure how things will look once the pieces have settled. I’d still expect the Tories to win, but there are lots of ways Labour could move to limit the Tory’s advantages. However, Johnson would have to exude competence, especially during any crisis. Having said he is not up to job so many times, it has to be obvious that he is.