That's the Last Challenge to Brown. Pity
Rentoul, John, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
David Miliband seemed to have flunked his final chance to go for the top job, but his long-term chances are unscathed
One of David Miliband's supporters, a former cabinet minister, summed up last week to me thus: "Something which wasn't going to happen now isn't going to happen." Well, Gordon Brown has not yet made it to the finishing line, but it is hard to disagree. Two other former cabinet ministers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon, did what they set out to do. They wanted to give their colleagues a "clear opportunity to finally lay this matter to rest", as they said in their email on Wednesday, and Labour MPs took that opportunity, albeit not in the way that the plotters intended. If Hewitt and Hoon wanted clarity, they have come closer to it.
We have learnt that, after two and a half years of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, the only people left in the Cabinet are those with safe seats that have decided, at differing levels of their consciousness, to go into the election with him at the helm. This was always a provisional judgement, and last week it was tested. The line wavered, but it held. We should be in no doubt, however, that the plot, dismissed by even Blairite MPs to whom I spoke last week as "hopeless", "cack-handed" and "self-indulgent", could have succeeded. If David Miliband had wanted to bring Brown down, he could have done so.
The trouble with that, from Miliband's point of view, was that he was most unlikely to emerge from it in a better position than he is in today. If there were no other resignations and Brown managed to hang on, his political career would be over. But if other ministers followed and more MPs demanded a secret ballot, and Brown finally came out with his hands up, the most likely beneficiary would still not have been him; it would have been Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary. Mr Clean Hands has more support among Labour MPs, and would have fought the curtailed leadership election as the unity candidate. Some of those people that are now saying Miliband is a serial bottler would praise his courage, but they would be offset by others that thought he was being treacherous. Indeed, the surest way by which Brown could have been ousted would have been if Miliband had resigned and said selflessly that he wanted Johnson as prime minister.
But the point about a big resignation - Johnson, Harriet Harman, Alistair Darling and Peter Mandelson are also powerful enough to bring Brown down - is that it could have been done at any time before Christmas, which would have been the best time. They have all thought about it, and last week's plot was an attempt to bounce one or more into doing it, but they don't want to, and now we know.
It is a long time since I read Sigmund Freud on the psychology of humour, but it is notable that Brown, having not made a single funny joke in public since he became Prime Minister, started to deploy his secret weapon in the Commons last month. Then on Thursday, after the Hewitt-Hoon coup had failed, he opened an event saying, "Yesterday I didn't …
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Publication information: Article title: That's the Last Challenge to Brown. Pity . Contributors: Rentoul, John - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent on Sunday (London, England). Publication date: January 1, 2010. Page number: 42. © 2009 The Independent on Sunday. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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