The what-to-do-about-Gordon problem will become much easier for Labour to solve once the party accepts there is almost certainly nothing it can do now to win the next General Election. No Government in history has recovered sufficiently from such disastrous opinion poll ratings, and by-election defeats on the scale of Crewe and Glasgow East, in time to win the confidence of voters at the polls – especially not when the economy is on the rocks.
The wisest counsel for Mr Brown’s would-be successor as party leader is to keep his or her powder dry until the position becomes vacant, presumably a few days after the election, which is now most likely to be held in May 2010. It is unclear quite who would want the thankless task at this stage – certainly not David Miliband, who has time to wait until the political weather is better, and possibly not even the eternally ambitious Jack Straw, who must know a duff hand when he sees one.
The flurry of activity following the Glasgow East result, with allegations of disgruntled MPs collecting names for a letter urging Mr Brown to step down, and of Cabinet members willing to tell the Prime Minister to his face to quit, appears to have fizzled out. This is hardly surprising, given a Populus opinion poll yesterday showing that barely half of voters believe a change of leadership or policy would improve the party’s chances of success at the next election. Coupled with a ComRes poll showing that 53 per cent of respondents think the Conservatives are ready for office, even the most optimistic Labour MP must suspect that, after 11 years in power, the game is well and truly up.
Loyal Harriet Harman, the leader of the House of Commons, will continue to try to rally support for the Prime Minister. In an interview over the weekend, in what may come to be regarded as the understatement of the decade, Ms Harman said we hadn’t yet seen the best of Mr Brown, before adding bizarrely that she continued to support him “because the big problems people are facing at the moment are the economy, the cost of fuel and food prices”. And that was supposed to be supportive?
Gordon Brown’s short premiership has been a disaster, probably even worse than his political enemies could have imagined. But Labour has only itself to blame for failing to remember why in 1994 it chose Tony Blair as leader instead of the more experienced but unappealing Gordon Brown.