It was distinctly odd that a Brown must go movement was sparked by the annoucement of Jacqui Smith quitting the cabinet and a few others retiring from the Commons. . On the face of it, Smiths departure can only strengthen the government, not weaken it further; the job of Home Secretary was clearly beyond her, leaving bath plugs and porn videos aside. The other quiitters wanted to get their notice in quick, to avoid the impression of being sacked over expenses. But in the spasm of panic that swept Westminster within minutes of her news, it was as if her departure was a cue for a coup, coming at the worst possible time for any government, 48 hours before an election As a tactic, it resembles the coup of the Brownites which persuaded Tony Blair to see the writing on the wall. Ironically the leader of that mini- coup of the juniors way back in 2006 Tom Watson, is among those whose departure from government was leaked yesterday. If the Blairites are getting their own back at last, it really is implosion, given the dire straits Labour is in. I see Nick Robinson also scents a possible conspiracy. And yet – what coup? Nobody has emerged to lead it. Whether this turns out to be more than a spasm will become clearer after Thursdays poll or maybe, just maybe, just before it. Meanwhile the Guardian, the nearest the press comes to a Brown supporter apart from the Mirror, has crossed a Rubicon.
“The tragedy for Mr Brown and his party is that his chance to change it has gone. The truth is that there is no vision from him, no plan, no argument for the future and no support. The public see it. His party sees it. The cabinet must see it too, although they are not yet bold enough to say so. He is only secure in the economic comfort zone he built up as chancellor, and in the company of his closest allies, such as Ed Balls, now being tipped as chancellor. The prime minister shines at the IMF or the G20, but the job involves much more than that. The blunt reality is that, even if he set out a grand programme of reform now, his association with it would doom its prospects. Proportional representation would transform parliament, but if Mr Brown put a referendum on the ballot, it would be defeated because he backed it..”
That sinewy Blairite John Rentoul says with no great enthusiasm: I still think, though, that what we are witnessing is the pre-convulsion that will depose Brown, rather than the beginnings of the coup itself. I suppose that Alan Johnson for it is most likely to be him could say that he needs nine months to set out his stall of renewal and cheerful one-liners. (He came up with another good one last weekend, calling David Cameron and Nick Clegg the “self-righteous brothers”.) But I don’t think that would cut much ice with the tricoteuses of the talent-show democracy that are demanding instant gratification.
Whoever takes over from Brown would have to promise to go to the country within six months .
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