Gordon Brown – is a band wagon starting to roll?

It starts to look like a feeding frenzy among the media at least, some of it from entirely predictable sources. Sunday is usually political comment day and this one is no exception. The BBC is slightly hobbled by the ritual of having to give prominence to the Lib Dem conference but the internet spurns mere rituals. Even the political weekly the New Statesman owned by Geoffrey Robinson, Gordon Brown’s mentor and friend, could hardly hold its peace until next Friday and joined in the frenzy this morning. The NS political editor Martin Bright blogged: “Until this weekend the Westminster village was in denial about the gravity of the crisis in which Gordon Brown finds himself….. The Prime Minister should realise that for every MP who has raised his or her head over the parapet there are three r more that feel the same way. There can be little doubt now that a candidate of substance would gain the 70-odd nominations necessary to trigger a ballot.” No sign yet of that “candidate of substance,” though.John Hutton the Blairite cabinet minister has put his head above the parapet – to defend Brown but also remarkably,not to condemn rebels whom Brown has actually sacked..

“I am absolutely not going to condemn any of my colleagues who want that debate but I think we have to support the government and we have to support the work we are doing because it is absolutely the right direction for the country.” That means John Hutton is refusing to condemn Brown’s openly declared opponents – hardly a stirring defence of the boss’s tactics.

Chief whip Geoff Hoon was very careful not to condemn the rebels out of hand “There’s a meeting of Labour National Executive Committee next Tuesday and they will deal with that…. If people have something to say in a democracy they should be able to say it.” It’s kid gloves for the rebels at present for fear of attracting many more. It shows how weak Gordon Brown’s position has become.

As the Observer reports, the strategy of the rebellion triggered by Siobhain McDonagh is to try to force the party to send out nomination forms to all MPs inviting them to renominate the current leader at conference. “The rebels’ aim is to encourage as many MPs as possible – the dozens who are unsure whether or not to stay loyal to Brown – to withdraw support by refusing to renominate him on the forms”. Party officials are refusing to issue the forms but the rebels, advised by former Lord Chancellor and old Blair flatmate Charlie Falconer , may mount a legal challenge.

Abstentions could kill of Brown more quickly than the search for 70 rebels to force a contest. The caution of his cabinet colleagues suggests at least an each-way bet.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London