Coup at Ten

What sense does it make for Labour to try to pluck a new Prime Minister out of this chaos? Whoever he might be, with a launch like this, he would make Gordon Brown at his worst look like Alexander the Great. A second Prime Minister born without an election would make an early election inevitable – at the worst possible time. It’s a choice between a no brainer or suicide. They might just balk at suicide. Declarations of loyalty have been flooding in, co-ordinated no doubt. At 39 James Purnell is an ambitious right winger with an eye to the – (his) – future. He may also be sincere: his resignation letter packs a telling punch. I now believe your continued leadership makes a Conservative victory more, not less likely. Unusually for one of his generation, Purnell sports sideburns. For a reason I can’t quite explain to myself, that grates with me. It’s a naff gesture of self regard or something. He’s one of those bright meritocrats who talks to mid air rather than to you, as if the idea is more important than the person. Purnell began as Tony Blair’s researcher in opposition and rose through the ranks of think tanks to become head of strategy at the BBC, an idea invented by John Birt. Elected to Parliament in 2001 he had a meteoric rise to the cabinet two years ago. He is one of those people, more common the longer a government lasts, who are promoted for their backroom skills than for their political profile. By quitting at the stroke at 10, he aims to make Brown’s reshuffle impossible and drive the PM out of office by the weekend and himself back inside within a few weeks under a new leader. He had primed the papers in advance; the Guardian and the Times were set and ready to go. The Times profile obviously comes from its subject. The shock tactic may not work. ( James who?) He is acting alone. He’s no Hesletine. Meanwhile Brown moved fast through the night to fill the vacancies. If a new cabinet has been formed by the time you read this, he’s won a vital round, staggering but still on his feet. The longer he leaves it, the greater are the chances of a slide. Miliband is not resigning. What news of Alistair Darling v Ed Balls for Chancellor? If most of the cabinet fall into line it will be difficult for them to eat their words in a few days time, however dreadful the election results. But politicians are infinitely flexible.

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