Welcome back. Let’s roll the clock forward to the weekend before polling day. Debates two and three have gone off with the minimum of fuss. The Q1 GDP growth figures bring positive news. Brown and Cameron wheel out hopeful game-changing moments, but nothing cuts through. Cleggmania is still with us, although the man himself has slipped up over Trident and one or two other small matters. And the polls, although bouncing around a bit, still indicate a hung parliament.
Overshadowing all this is the question about Brown’s leadership and the demands Clegg will make when Labour is declared the largest party. Labour’s focus groups make grim reading on the leadership question and Frank Luntz keeps popping up on the telly saying the party’s biggest weakness is Brown.
Meanwhile, Mandelson has started to become rather worried that there could be a late swing against Labour that the polls fail to pick up. His overriding concern, of course, is to secure Labour's fourth term. But he is also hearing that Ed Balls is busy preparing his leadership bid that will kick in if Labour lose. What to do?
Option 1 – Mandelson could decide to leave the leadership question open until after the election.
Option 2 – Mandelson could think the unthinkable and go for a variation of the Bob Hawke Scenario and convince Brown it was in the party’s best interests for him to stand down days before the election.
Option 3 – Mandelson tells Brown that his fudging over the leadership question during the campaign will damage Labour at the polls and he has to announce, before the election, that he will stand down after polling day.
If the election battleground stays as is, there are considerable risks for Labour with Option 1, as the voters may well turn against the party on polling day.
Option 2 is obviously not feasible, but it’s a reminder of the solution put forward by John Rentoul and discussed by senior members of the AJ4PM committee a year ago. If it had been Alan Johnson or David Miliband last week, we would never have heard of Cleggmania.
So, we are left with Option 3, which would ensure Labour dominate the final days of the campaign
Will Mandelson press that button as we move towards polling day? If not, then what other options are there available to remove the Brown factor from the election equation?