Alex Massie

When You’ve Lost Polly Toynbee...

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I read Polly Toynbee today and assumed it had to have been written by some pluck-faced intern charged with writing nonsense in the style of La Toynbee while she gets away from it all at her Tuscan villa. But apparently not. It is not a spoof or a parody. Anyway: Gordon is dead, long live the boy Dave! Seriously. Even so, it's worth noting that even Brown's most deluded defenders are now switching sides.

Suddenly everything changed. The burst of optimism was so startling it dazzled those too long trapped deep in a dungeon. In that one moment it was all over for the old leader who had plunged them into these depths. Suddenly here was the chance of escape everyone was waiting for.

David Miliband stepped up as the man with a plan to take the fight to the Tories, the man to free the party from the bondage of disastrous leadership. With the deftest of brush strokes in his Guardian article, he painted the policies of optimism...

He set a small stone rolling down the hill, its effect unpredictable: already it has become a boulder. His press conference and performance on the Jeremy Vine Show gave his party the chance to look at him in a new light. His breezy ease was at odds with previous awkward appearances - notably a bad speech at the last Labour conference. He dismissed suspicion that this silver-spoon-fed political princeling hadn't the guts to reach for the sword in the stone, nor the muscle, the will or the street-fighting canniness for power...

In the end the party will reward those bold enough to try to save the day in this crisis, not those who wait for someone else to take the risk. Miliband has unleashed the force of pent-up frustration within Labour. September will prove the mettle of the cabinet, the pluck or cowardice of individual ministers to seize one last chance. Let's see who puts the fight to keep the Tories out ahead of the fear to act.

Talk of cabinet ministers handing Brown the black spot is all very well and good, but how likely is it that Brown will grind his teeth and accept his fate? Perhaps he is so beaten that leaing office would be a relief, but it's surely just as likely that there'll be no clean kill (if there is one at all) and, instead, the kind of civil war that could keep the party out of power for a decade.

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.

Topics in this articlePoliticslabour party