Has the Chancellor blown it through his natural prudence?
In years to come will Gordon Brown look back on the second Wednesday of May 2006 as the time when he blew his best ever chance to become Labour leader and Prime Minister?
Will he recall May 10th – just a week ago today when all the eyes were on him – as the moment he should have moved and sought to oust Blair?
Will he remember the stony silence of Labour MPs as Tony endured one of his worst batterings at Prime Minister Questions? Will Gordon think back at the loudest noises on the Government side that day was sharing a David Cameron joke at his and Blair’s expense?
Will Brown ponder the extraordinary planning that had gone into tapping into the natural Labour disappointment after the local elections and the weekend of pressure on Tony? We had it all; the anti-Blair calls from groups broader than the usual suspects; the draft letter that dissidents were circulating; and, of course, his tour of the TV studios on the Monday calling for renewal.
And to top it all there were the polls. The normally pro-Labour Populus recording an 8% Tory lead followed a day later by YouGov with a 6% margin.
Extraordinarily Camp Brown did not seem to have a closure plan. It was as though the strategy was to make a lot of noise and then expect Tony just to walk away and hand over the keys?
Well Blair didn’t and now he has changed the subject. The problem is that failing to strike the final blow might have left Gordon looking a bit diminished.
Those who do make it to the very top of the greasy poll invariably have that killer instinct to spot the opportunity and seize the moment just as Maggie Thatcher did with Ted Heath thirty odd years ago.
The danger for Gordon is that when Blair does finally go then someone else could get between him and the job he has craved for so long. My current guess is that that person will be the education secretary, Alan Johnson, whose rapid progression in the trade union movement has shown that he’s got the ambition and the political antenna.
My reading of Brown is that he would find it hard dealing with a contested election when he would have to ask people for their votes. It is not easy trying to envisage Brown as the supplicant. After more than a decade expecting the mantle just to be handed over the reality of fighting a serious contest would be very challenging. Johnson, or somebody like him, could give him a run for his money.
The latest leadership prices are: Brown 0.36/1: Reid 13/1: Johnson 13.5/1: Miliband 19/1: Benn 39/1. As well as my Johnson bets I’m now in strong positions on John Reid and Hilary Benn. And if Brown does do it then I’ll end up in profit with my covering bets on Ed Balls as the next Chancellor.