Is the 42 days vote the next crunch time for Brown?
So, it hasn’t been Milburn, or Clarke, or Miliband. The post-Crewe bank holiday weekend has passed without any major figure stepping out to publically take on the PM, and the febrile atmosphere has subsided slightly as ministers have rallied round their embattled, if not quite fatally wounded, leader – but as a new week begins, a new issue raises its head, this time over road tax and fuel duties.
How much more of this can Gordon take? As the experiences of his three predecessors show, once the mutterings and rumours are underway, it is only a matter of time until a leadership challenge or being forced to step down – the question is how much time.
If you believe that Gordon can weather the storm for the next two years, then 2010 looks an absolute dead cert for the next election date – “we can [recover] in two years. We will use all of that time”, according to a Labour figure quoted in the Guardian on the two-year “fightback”. 2010 is available at 1.7 on Betfair – and even if there is a new leader, they too may prefer to “go long” in the hope that this will give time for the economy to improve.
Like a tiring horse trying desperately to finish the Grand National, every forthcoming hurdle will be scrutinised closely by the pundits to see if Gordon can clear it in one piece or whether he will finally come crashing to the ground. The PLP meets next week, and then the possibility of Ruth Kelly resigning from Cabinet on the third reading of the fertilisation and embryology bill in mid-June has also been mentioned.
The next major test for Gordon looks likely to be the Commons vote on whether to extend detention without charge to 42 days for terror suspects. Up to 40 Labour MPs may vote against – and if they do and the government loses, might this finally bring matters to a head for Brown? After that, there’s a possible Cabinet reshuffle to consider in late July, and then conference in September.
How much more of this can the Prime Minister, his party, and the country put up with? Will it be two more years of sleepwalking to disaster or will something finally give? The government is in power for two more years – can it yet emulate the Tories in 1995-7, who despite their deep unpopularity and virtually no Commons majority, still managed to push through a major policy in the shape of rail privatisation in the government’s dying days? What do Labour plan to do with what might be their last period in power for a decade or more?
Paul Maggs “Double Carpet”