Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Labour's 19th nervous breakdown

Nobody likes a rat. Even if Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon had managed to oust Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, it wouldn’t do the Labour Party any good.

Voters recoil from this sort of in-fighting. And they react badly to the opportunistic desperation of a Labour Party wanting a leadership contest now.

We are just over three months from a General Election. The country is at war. The economy is on its knees. The public finances are in their worst state since the Battle of Waterloo.

Yesterday our top Cabinet Ministers devoted their time to debating whether to knife their leader. Willing to wound and yet afraid to strike, they bottled it yet again.

But the damage to Labour has been done. Voters are already cynical about politicians of all parties. Plots against Mr Brown only make matters worse.

Neither Ms Hewitt nor Mr Hoon is a political heavyweight. But when everyone knows Gordon Brown is leading his troops to disaster, Labour MPs will clutch at straws.

Part of their problem, though, is there’s no obvious successor waiting in the wings. The top ranks of the party are riven with jealousies, back-stabbing and in-fighting.

That’s why it took most of the Cabinet several hours to voice any support for the Prime Minister, though none of them could bring themselves to use Mr Brown’s name.

Lord Peter Mandelson feels used and abused. He’s sulking because he wasn’t made the EU’s foreign secretary and he has fallen out with Gordon Brown over spending cuts.

James Purnell walked out of the Cabinet last summer but nobody followed him. Alistair Darling doesn’t talk to the Prime Minister any longer.

Ed Balls thinks he should become leader but nobody else does. David Milliband is already preparing to fight for the job – though whether he’s told brother Ed is debatable.

One compromise candidate may be Alan Johnson, the former postman. Another is Jack Straw. The sisterhood of Blair’s ageing babes may give a boost to Harriet Harman as a contender.

With so many names being bandied about, the chances of Labour finding one who can unite the party and lead it to election victory in a matter of weeks are zero.

In the meantime, the jockeying for position, trashing of opponents and spilt blood generates nothing but contempt for the whole rotten lot of them.

Just when Labour supporters thought the looming election might force the party into a show of unity, the splits appear deeper and wider than ever.

This plot is a clear sign of Labour’s nervous breakdown as the riches and rewards of 13 years in power melt away faster than snow in spring.

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