Peter Hoskin

The sword still hangs above Gordon Brown’s head

The sword still hangs above Gordon Brown's head
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And so it continues.  Gordon Brown may have prevented his own immediate demise over the past ten days, but the idea that he'll be toppled before the next election still won't go away.  

The most intriguing of all the leadership stories in the Sundays is the News of the World's scoop that Ed Balls is, allegedly, planning to wield the knife should Brown fail to substantially improve Labour's position over the next few months.  Balls - so long Brown's consigliere, but now perhaps losing status to the rejuvenated Peter Mandelson - is said to have announced the plan after the PLP meeting last Monday.

Whether there's anything to it, I'm not sure.  And it's certainly getting hard to keep up with all the briefing, counter-briefing and other assorted speculation.  But the NotW story does rather shine a light on the Damoclean sword hanging above Brown's head. 

For starters, the Dear Leader will find it very difficult to force any positive message into a news agenda more concered with his beleagured premiership; which, in turn, limits his ability to stage a "fightback"; which, in turn, makes it more likely that the party will finally choose to ditch him.  

And then there's the sense that, despite the reshuffle and the farcical "unity" of that PLP meeting, Brown is now but one blow away from political death.  That blow could come from Balls, as the NotW suggests; it could come from Miliband; or it could come from the massed ranks of the Labour backbenches.  Either way, the threat is there - and it must be encouraging more bitten fingernails on Downing Street than usual.

All the while, there'll be plenty of provocation for the plotters, in the form of by-election results and the regular tick-tock of opinion poll findings.  Indeed, a poll in this morning's Sunday Times suggests that 51 percent of voters agree that “Gordon Brown’s continued presence as Prime Minister is damaging the country”, against 27 percent who disagree.  While 60 percent think that Brown should step down before the next election.  Yep, you can almost hear the knives being sharpened already...

(Painting: Sword of Damocles, by Richard Westall, 1812)