If ever proof were needed that its usually politicians themselves and not the media who create political firestorms, you find it loud and clear in the events of the past 24 hours. The politicians obligingly act out key moments of the crisis for us; Hazel Blears sports her “rocking the boat” brooch for the cameras after resigning at a moment of maximum damage a couple of hours before PMQs, and Cameron duly tries to clean up. But this is mainly an internal Labour story of plots and assassination. The story goes to ground. The round robin emerges. Gordon Brown quietly reorganises his forces under cover of election day. The hostile press do their best to fan the flames. Who next? Caroline Flint Europe minister, Hazel’s great mate, on the day of the Euro election? Why not? An undistinguished local government minister quit on the day before the local government elections. Ben Brogan Telegraph strategist, shows signs of mild schizophrenia as he strains to do his best:
“Honestly, my granny could run a better coup than this lot”, he moans. And yet he adds hopefully:“From the conversations I’ve had in the past 72 hours I have no doubt that someone can be found to do the deed”.
Still, for the moment the pressure has eased. Tempered by seeing off a threatened cabinet coup last year, Browns people are boxing cleverer. Soap opera is creeping in. Blears is being petted; poor love, shes under strain over expenses. Are rumours of more to come on her expenses a Damian McBride tactic or something more substantial? Bring on the Telegraph inquisition to do Gordons dirty work for him! So we have a couple of cabinet jobs to fill, whats the problem? Quite a lot, actually; if a cabinet strike takes hold, it will destroy him. Yet the downbeat tactics might work, unless double-dire election results spark a whole new conflagration. Peter Riddell of the Times, less excitable than many in the commentariat, reminds us how hard it is to shift a leader. For the next move, Alistair Darling holds the cards.
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