The view is that June 4th will be grim for all the major parties, but particularly grim for Labour. Oddly, the worse the Tories do, the worse it is for Brown. A poor Tory performance will show Labour MPs that the Tories haven’t sealed the deal, that they could still save themselves.
The fact the European votes won’t be counted until Sunday will make the elections a double-blow to Brown. Early the following week we can, as I say in the politics column this week, expect Brown to launch a counter-attack in an attempt to change the story. My money would be on a radical programme of constitutional reform. Brown still has the advantages of the Prime Ministerial bully pulpit and the ability to introduce legislation, in his bid to survive he is going to use them.
If this doesn’t cauterise the wound, then the moves will start. Now, I expect CoffeeHousers are saying didn’t we see this movie last summer. But as one Labour insider said to me, there’s a crucial difference: “No leader candidate last time, one this time: that could be all the difference some people need.”
The candidate is, of course, Alan Johnson. His sophisticated intervention on Monday has signalled that this time he really is up for it. It also, crucially, showed Labour MPs that there is an alternative to being in a permanent defensive crouch.
Johnson is the perfect candidate for a coronation. His links to the unions and the Blairites make him acceptable across the party, unlike David Miliband. If Miliband really is serious about running, then his political instincts are even worse than the Brownites claimed they were last summer. Of equal importance, is that no one thinks Johnson has the appetite to do a long stint as leader of the opposition. All those who fancy a crack at the leadership themselves can support him safe in the knowledge that they’ll get their chance soon enough.