Here, for what it’s worth, are my thoughts about this bizarre unfolding day of politics. First, expect the unexpected. Over the last two years no one predicted the huge swings of the political pendulum. Brown’s position was so strong in his first few months he nearly called an early election. He then went into free fall before starting to pull things back last autumn as the Conservative response to the credit crunch faltered. Then, in the last few weeks, in the wake of McBride and MPs’ expenses, Brown has taken Labour to new depths of support.
The last 24 hours are a microcosm of these wild swings. Listening to the radio last night after James Purnell’s resignation, the pundits were close to consensus that the game was up for the Prime Minister. But now with Miliband, Darling and Johnson safely ensconced in the big three jobs there is an emerging view that the Prime Minister may survive. Number Ten has a slew of major policy announcements on the stocks. Downing Street believes that if Brown can maintain sufficient momentum to get through the next few days his chances of making it to the general election are pretty good. But if this sounds like prediction, ignore it – the one thing we have learnt over the last two years is that political pundits are less reliable than horse racing tipsters.
My second point assumes Gordon Brown survives. He will then be able to rely on the total commitment and loyalty of his cabinet. Unlike almost everyone else, I try to take a charitable view of politicians. So, I assume that those ministers who have long had private criticisms of the Brown set-up have stayed in Government because they have changed their mind for strong substantive reasons. To be propping up a Prime Minister simply from inertia, fear or career calculation would be hard to defend. This implies the Cabinet must now be made up of people whose genuine political judgement it is that Grown Brown can defy the odds and come through next year, presumably by a combination of visionary new policy, economic recovery and drawing the dividing lines with the Conservatives.
Everyone in Labour ranks - including James Purnell – will hope those who have stayed have got it right, and given the swings of the last two years it is not inconceivable. But if they are wrong there will be nowhere to hide. After the Purnell resignation no one can say they didn’t have a choice.
So, on the one hand we have the possibility of another swing of the pendulum and the greatest political come back in modern Parliamentary history. On the other hand, if Gordon does stay and lose badly, Labour members could turn against the whole of its current leadership class. Few of the people then emerging as the architects of the post Blair-Brown Labour Party will be names widely recognised today.