20 May 2009

John Rentoul’s latest thoughts on the Labour leadership

John Rentoul returns to the question of the Labour leadership today:

The key to a coup is political will, and one of the big effects of the expenses furore has been to demoralise Labour MPs, from the furthest-flung of back benches to the front seats in the Cabinet. The other thing is that the gale force of voter fury makes it seem pointless for Labour to change leader. The idea that the Government could rescue itself simply by rearranging personnel looks beside the point.

So I am uncertain about the likelihood of a move against Brown straight after the European election results being announced on 7 June, even if Labour does come fourth behind the Liberal Democrats and the UK Independence Party. And the timing is not yet right.

Agreed.  I made the same point that the expenses revelations make it less likely that there will be a move against Brown in June.  Indeed, I went further and suggested that a move against Brown is irrelevant as the public clamour for an early general election may well become irresistible.  Moving on:

It may be fashionable among some of my fellow Alan Johnson supporters to advocate another handover without a Labour Party vote. That does not seem like a good idea. I agree with one Labour MP who wants a change who told me that such a switch would be "cynical and horrible".

A leadership election – a comradely affair between Johnson (as prime minister), Jon Cruddas and Hazel Blears, possibly – could help refresh the party. It would, after all, cheer everyone up and give the media something to talk about other than how venal MPs are.

Your kidding me that a contested leadership election would be ‘a comradely affair’.  This is the Labour party on the edge of electoral meltdown.  Then:

But if Labour changed its leader again it would be neither wise nor right to resist the clamour for a general election soon afterwards. The candidates in a leadership election would have to pledge to go to the polls soon. If there is a coup this summer, then, the new prime minister would have to go to the country in the autumn.

On this we are already agreed.  The new leader would have to pledge to having an election within three to four months.  It is for this reason why June is the only possibility for a change.  John suggests Brown may go on until the Autumn.  That implies we would have another non-elected prime minister in office for at least 6 months, as a January or February election is not desirable.  Moreover, would it really be sensible to have the rumour mill going wild at the time of the Labour conference?

If a change were to happen there are other reasons for June.  Consider the Cabinet reshuffle; the tactical short-term thinking Brown would get up to over the Summer; and the tricky by-election that will have to be held by the end of September (assuming Martin stands down as an MP in June), which would not happen if the was an October election.

I now feel that the Labour leadership question has been over taken by events.  If Labour was to dump Brown after the June elections or in the Autumn, no matter how it was achieved, then the pressure for an election would be impossible to resist.

I discussed at the weekend that there should be an general election and I hold with this view.  The expenses scandal has fundamentally altered the political whether and the electorate want change.  Brown or a new Labour leader is not going to stop that happening.

John and I can dream our dreams.  Events have settled the matter.  It is too late.

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