Alex Massie

Waiting for Glenrothes

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So, the conventional wisdom is that Gordon Brown has survived and will not, in fact, face a leadership challenge anytime soon. Why? Because it's too difficult to get rid of him and, in any case, there's no obviously more palatable successor. As the BBC's Nick Robinson put it this morning:

Friends of the Prime Minister put it more positively. MPs have come to realise, they say, that it's not Gordon Brown that's the problem but "the economy stupid" and he's the best man to sort it. In this respect, and this one only, the polls are helpful for Mr Brown. The public does not say it wants a change of Labour leader nor that the party's position would be improved if there was one.

So it is that Gordon Brown has neither been backed or sacked. So it is that he has not re-launched his leadership but does not face a challenge to it.

These"friends" are deluded if they think it's the economy, not Gordon. It's both. True, the public doesn't demand a change in leadership but that's because the public doesn't like any Labour politician. Any new leader is also likely to suffer a catastrophic defeat. That being so, only an unusually confident politician would want to lead the Labour charge into the valley of death. Consider this poll: just 31% of voters agree with this, admittedly hypothetical, proposition, “if the economic situation improves dramatically over the next year or two, Labour will have a good chance of winning the next election.”

Also, why push when Gordon might - just might - jump himself? Obviously that remains unlikely, but if the SNP were - as most folk expect them to - win the Glenrothes by-election, then one can imagine a situation in which Brown might conclude that the game was no longer worth the candle. After all, if he cannot win a by-election in the town in which he grew up and the constituency that borders his own, then where can he win? And, since he will be directing Labour operations himself, it's hard to see how he can avoid responsibility for the result. Defeat for Labour in Fife - the only part of Britian that ever elected a communist MP - may embolden the rest of the cabinet. But if they're wise they'd appreciate that since the ship is going down anyway, there's no need for a mutiny to replace one doomed skipper with another.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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