Could a contest now be a proxy vote on both Brown and Blair?
The two big current issues in UK politics – Blair’s departure date and whether Brown will succeed him – could be brought to a head if the Deputy Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott steps aside and there is a contest.
After a weekend of rising specualtion both Gordon Brown and Tony Blair have come to Prescott’s defence because it appears to be in the interest of both to avoid a contest that could reinforce divisions within the party.
For Blair a Deputy Leadership battle could be seen as a party referendum on when he should go while for Brown it could bring a contender to the fore who could challenge him when the leadership election finally comes.
Both camps are said to be concerned that a contest would see the party turning in on itself just at a time when the Tories have got the initiative.
The problem they’ve both got is that coverage like yesterday’s pictures in the Mail of Prescott playing croquet on the lawns of his grace and favour country house, Dorneywood is very damaging. Why is Labour letting somebody continue with his big salary and massive perks when his job has all but been taken away?
But as we saw on the site on Saturday with the contribution by a Labour MP who wants to keep his identity secret there is growing pressure and speculation about who would run.
Such a contest would get massive coverage with all the candidates being asked in almost every interview whether they want Blair to step down early and if they would be backing Brown. Inevitably anti or pro Blair and Brown tags would be attached to each of the contestants and the eventual result would be interpreted in these terms.
As yet there is no betting market on the Deputy Leadership or on how long Prescott can survive. These will surely come. Meanwhile Brown retains his 0.36/1 price for next Labour leader while in the Blair departure date betting you can still get 3.1/1 on Tony lasting another 19 months.