Last Friday Gordon Brown rang The Priory to inquire about the health of Susan Boyle, the singer who became an international sensation on Britain’s Got Talent, but had a meltdown when she didn’t win. This Friday, Susan Boyle rang Downing Street to inquire as to the political health of Gordon Brown, who is having his own meltdown as the most troubled Prime Minister since Anthony Eden.
Four Cabinet Ministers and two Ministers of State resign within three days, one suggesting that Brown should join him so as to make it less likely that the Conservatives will win an election. Meantime, the British public is sending a strong message through the polls that the Labour Party has lost its favour and that, while the other parties are not much better, anyone but Labour will do. Labour is set to lose significant ground in its municipal heartland, if early English results are anything to go by.
Brown has rushed a cabinet shuffle and conceded ground to both Milliband, who stays at the Foreign Office and, more significantly, Alistair Darling, who stays at Chancellor. This decision to keep Darling in place is a blow to Brown, and reveals his vulnerability. He had made it clear during this last week that he wished Ed Balls, the Education Minister, to move to the Treasury but Darling had made it clear that he was not moving. He either stayed in the Chancellorship or he left the front bench. Brown conceded and both Balls and Darling stay where they are.
This is the end for Brown. While he may survive till Sunday, the European Election results due Sunday afternoon will rekindle the anger and bitterness within the party and push the plotters further. At least two former cabinet members suggested or hinted that Brown needed to go and a third left rather than accept a demotion, unhappy with Brown’s leadership. A backbench hotmail campaign calling for Brown is gaining ground, even as Alan Johnson, the imputed alternative leader to Brown, accepts the position of Home Secretary, thereby confirming his allegiance to Brown.
“Stick a fork in him, he’s done”, said one backbencher today when speaking of Brown. He may be Prime Minister by name, but continues to battle his own party and is distracted from running the country. Infighting, bickering, power struggles, campaigning has taken over the Labour Party, who are now less than a year from being required to hold a General Election. The Conservative Party and the Liberal Party are both calling for an immediate general election, one Labour is certain to lose in a most dramatic way. Whether Brown likes it or not, there is no leadership, no strategy and no plan to either rebirth the British economy and its social development or to fight off the Tories at the next election. The Party, as Nick Clegg, the Liberal Leader, rightly observes “has run out of track and the train is derailed”.
The collapse of the Prime Ministers authority and the debacle within the Labour Party is spectacular. A sequence of high profile resignations, culminating in that of the Defence Secretary late yesterday, challenged Brown through a form of Chinese torture – each resignation being another drip of venom pouring down on a beleaguered and ham fisted Prime Minister. Even the Queen, who appoints him, must be wondering whether she call him in and ask him to go.
The surprising thing is how Brown has boxed in Alan Johnson. Many backbenchers and a large number of political commentators, most notably Polly Toynbee in The Guardian, had seen Johnson as the next leader of the party. A strong communicator, steady pair of hands and supported by many in the party, he was seen to have the “moxy” to push back at Cameron and begin the turnaround in Labour’s fortunes. In interviews on both Wednesday and Thursday he supported Brown and today has accepted a senior role in the Brown cabinet. This makes the plotters work more difficult and requires Brown to voluntarily relinquish his post, which no one expects him to do. Leaderless and limping, the plotters now have to find a new champion to rally behind. It wont be easy. The “I come to bury Brown, not to praise him speech” is a difficult one to give.
Brown has bought a few days of time to consolidate his inner circle and rally his own support, but it is temporary. This thing will not go away. It’s the swine flu season, after all. Brown will see most of his opponents as swine.