The five scariest words you will read in the press today are in The Sun, where Trevor Kavanagh says “I give him six months”. Brown, like Bevin, will have factored in far greater longevity – and I have been relying on him sending at least two more sets of No10 Christmas cards. I’m not saying he deserves to stay (though the longer he does, the longer the next period of Conservative government will be). But how can he go? Here’s my thinking – I’d be interested to know CoffeeHousers' takes.
Only Blairism brings in ex-Thatcher voters to Labour. The people who deserted the party last week were the ones whom Blair wooed from the Tories. This is not about Labour’s core vote being angry. So some kind of Blairite (or, to borrow Milburn’s argot, post-Blairite) agenda is its only hope of getting these voters back.
Yet the Blairites have lost the argument with the party. Blair couldn’t even get his reforms past his MPs in latter years. They’ve had their 13 years atop Labour, the party only stomached him because it was hungry for power. That hunger has gone - call it altitude sickness, or whatever - allowing the left of the party to become more prominent. The more we see Corbyn and McDonnell on TV, the more it’s clear that the ice which froze the Bennite Labour monster is melting. We can now see orphaned Blairites and a resurgent Old Labour arguing over future direction. Labour is not unified enough to agree on any one leadership candidate, or strategy.
Plus the younger candidates mentioned by bookies – D & E Miliband and James Purnell – are too young to go now. Why take the cockpit of a plane locked in a nosedive? Far better to sit out the crash, become Leader of the Opposition and hope Cameron lasts just one term. Unless you think Labour is out for a decade or more, in which case two years as PM will be the best you’ll get in your career. My guess is that Labour’s ‘next generation’ will wait until the election is lost.
Finally, Brown won’t quit. Remember, the guy is detached from reality – living in a world of spreadsheets and statistics. He’ll see this as short-term, a storm to ride out, adversity with which to demonstrate one’s strength. He’s plotted all his adult life for this job so he won’t wake up one morning and say “actually, you’re right. I’m crap. Bye-ee.” Rather he’ll programme the autopilot, and try and peg the Tories to his plans, giving them no room for manoeuvre. This brings me back to the Bevin quote. Brown will use debt to raid the budget of his successors. And he’s not finished yet. There is a small chance that sheer vanity will lead him to be diagnosed with a mystery illness like Eden and Macmillan. But he’s already down in history as leading Labour to its lowest voting share since 1918. His reputation is, in my view, beyond salvation. Plus is there any CoffeeHouser out there who dares say it's 100% likely Cameron will be the next PM? Or is 100% sure that DC’s policies will stand up to the greater scrutiny they now face? For as long as there’s a chance Brown can win, he’ll stay. And even if there’s no chance he can win, he’ll stay.
The Tories are free-marketeers – they have a mechanism to get rid of their leader on a wet weekend. Labour are central planners, so adopt protectionist policies. The same applies to their leader. You need 71 MPs, signed up in a specific window before the next party conference, and a winning candidate who has the backing of the unions. It’s a huge burden. The mechanism that Blair used to defend himself from Brown is being used by Brown to defend himself from his party (and the public).
I agree with Trevor inasmuch as there should be some natural justice booting Brown out after six months. But the lack of a candidate, and complex leadership battle mechanism, and the lack of an alternative agenda mean I can only see Brown clinging on by what remains of his fingernails until the very end.