On the thirtieth anniversary of Margaret Thatcher coming to power, the Torygraph is running a whole section today canonising the Prime Minister who was ruthlessly toppled by a spectacular cabinet and backbench revolt. Without a hint of irony, the Telegraph is also salivating over Gordon Browns similar troubles. In the cabinet ranks, serious damage limitation is the name of the game to try to forestall freefall. This time, with four weeks to go to the Euro-poll and a year to the general election, the feeding frenzy looks more serious. On the Today programme John Humphrys chortled his way through the motions of allowing Harriet Harman to deny
she had any intention of challenging Brown or had any ambition to become PM. (Shes safe enough there, Id day). By contrast, papers including the pro-Labour Mirror and the Guardian highlighted Alan Johnsons remark Im not saying there are no circumstances he would stand, the line the BBC chose not to pick up at the time.”The health secretary, Alan Johnson, surprised colleagues by deviating from his usual categorical denial of interest and suitability for the top job, saying in an interview on BBC1’s the Andrew Marr Show: “I am not saying there’s no circumstances.” However, the thrust of his interview was supportive: “I have no aspiration for the leadership, my aspiration was for the deputy leadership and I couldn’t even get that. I am not driven by this ambition. I want to be part of a good government and I want it to be led by Gordon Brown. I actually admire Gordon Brown tremendously.”
While the current clamour against Brown is louder than last years I doubt it will reach a peak until after the Euro elections. The sharpest test will be the one Neil Kinnock is spotting – the size of the BNP poll. So where are we now? Jackie Ashley who went off piste a few months ago to demands that Brown quit, is back on course with a cool analysis. Ben Brogan, restored to the Telegraph from the Mail, takes the philosophical view that the annual speculation about Brown’s future goes with the birds singing and the sap rising in Spring.
For those who want a local angle, Mallusks finest, the increasingly wobbly Kate Hoey, has denied she was about to defect from Labour but, in a measure of the despair now gripping the Labour ranks, she said she did not view the prospect of a Conservative victory as a disaster. “You’re asking me ‘would I be devastated?’ No absolutely not.”
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