Is this the beginning of the end for Brown?

by Stephen Tall on July 28, 2008

It’s silly season, so the temptation to dismiss the current media frenzy over Gordon Brown is a reasonable one. The faint sound of a barrel being scraped can be heard when MPs like Gordon Prentice – a long-term foe of Mr Brown – are given the platform to keep the wheels of the bandwagon rolling (to mix my metaphors). Yet it’s evident, even to outsiders, that the Prime Minister is in serious, serious trouble.

When your deputy as party leader can argue that the country has “not yet seen the best of the Prime Minister” – and that is regarded as a supportive statement – you know the plates are shifting in front of your eyes. More significant than Harriet Harman’s double-edged compliment – which made even RAB Butler’s damn-with-faint-praise taunt that Anthony Eden was “the best prime Minister we’ve got” (later repeated by Steve Norris of John Major) seem almost warm – was today’s slating of Mr Brown by one of his most loyal media lieutenants, Jackie Ashley, in today’s Guardian:

Only one thing is clear. It’s over for Gordon. His family aside, I may be the last person in the country to admire and like him. However much mockery it calls down – deep breath – this is a decent, uncorrupt, highly intelligent and serious man with good values, inspired by public service. I’d hoped he also had enough of an instinct for leadership to make him a successful prime minister. I was wrong.

The only argument being made by Labour supporters for sticking with Mr Brown appears to be that (1) there is no obvious alternative, and (2) their leadership rules are so messy any contest will drag on for months to the country’s increasing annoyance. There are few warm words. However grateful Labour members are for Gordon Brown’s role as chancellor, who among them believes he is up to the job of premier? None I’ve talked to.

As for the obstacles, they are real enough. They are also of Labour’s own making. There is no obvious alternative partly because Messrs Blair and Brown, separately and together, have dominated cabinet government for so long; and partly because Messrs Brown and Straw strong-armed the parliamentary Labour party into rubber-stamping Mr Brown’s rise to the leadership unopposed.

But the obstacles are only as formidable as the Labour party wants them to be. For sure they are a useful excuse, but that’s all they are. The Labour party’s destiny is in its own hands: they can sit on them or they can grasp the nettle (final mixed metaphor). Mr Brown is a spent political force. That’s sad for the Labour party, and a personal tragedy for a man who waited so long for a job for which he was so unsuited. But it’s time to move on.