Judging from the invective-specialists in the press and the comments of a number of the more strident people I come across, it would appear that I’m one of the few non-Labour people who doesn’t feel a little bit of sick rise whenever Gordon Brown’s name is mentioned.
I happen to think that he is an individual of no small intellect, and I applaud many of the difficult decisions he took on the economy when the banking crisis hit (regardless of where one thinks the blame for that state of affairs should be apportioned). I tend to think that Brown has been treated rather poorly by the media, the Conservatives and even some within his own party over the past two or three years. But the sad fact is that the only thing that can save us from the Tories now is if he goes, and goes quickly.
The first thing to say is that Gordon Brown’s observation of the constitutional position, largely unwritten as it is, has been impeccable. He has provided stability in the uncertain days following Thursday’s election and given Civil Service support to other political parties as they attempt to thrash out a deal to replace him.
But he and his advisers must surely come to recognise that the only clear message the electorate gave on Thursday was that they weren’t really sure who should be running the country, but they knew it shouldn’t be Gordon Brown.
Because the Labour Party is not the Tory Party, and ruthlessly butchering their leaders is not their preferred way of responding to electoral setbacks, there have so far only been three backbench Labour MPs willing to go on record and call for Brown to go. Perhaps the others know something we don’t. Perhaps a succession plan is in place and Gordon will go of his own volition within the next day or two.
But the longer he stays, the longer Labour will be excluded from coalition talks with the other parties, and the more distant the prospect of a “Progressive Alliance” will become. Brown is the stumbling block that currently makes the Tories look like the only show in town. His alleged angry phone rant at Nick Clegg the other night is probably neither here nor there, the real problem for Clegg is Brown’s electoral toxicity. The Lib Dem Leader knows full well that if he comes to any kind of arrangement with Gordon Brown a bit of the Prime Minister’s three-year bad luck curse is likely to rub off on him.
I don’t know how realistic the speculation about a “Progressive Alliance” is (a minority Conservative administration still looks most likely when the Tory and Lib Dem negotiators realise with horror what their counterparts are actually supposed to believe in) but I know it has no chance at all as long as Brown is the man at the top. It may be that Labour would simply prefer to go into Opposition and rebuild while the Tories are doing all the nasty stuff. But if they do want to stay engaged and be part of what could be one of the great reforming eras in British political history then Gordon will have to go.
David Miliband, his brother Ed, Alan Johnson, Harriet Harman – all of these are names thrown about as a successor. Labour’s choice of Leader is none of my business, but some sort of change will be necessary if they genuinely want to rescue that last, faint hope of genuine reform, as opposed to the ushering in of a new age of intolerance (whether moderated by the Lib Dems or not) if the Tories grasp power once again.
So I hope that Gordon Brown is making the most of a quiet weekend with his family, and that he will reflect on his options and decide to leave now, on his own terms. The longer he stays the harder it will be for parliament to grab the once-in-a-generation opportunity that lies before it.