What happens if the ratings aren’t turned round?
How are voters going to react to what is looking increasingly inevitable by the day – that Gordon Brown will assume the Labour leadership and become Prime Minister without a cabinet level challenge?
In a main editorial this weekend the Guardian considered the implications of what’s likely to happen under the headline “Sleepwalking towards succession” and argued strongly that “the party could gain by using the transition to consider and test its future, just as the Conservatives managed so well, and so unexpectedly, last year.”.
The editorial concluded: “Bottling up discontent runs risks for Labour and for Mr Brown, not least when some from Labour’s moderate modern parts were so open so recently about what they see as his weaknesses. Charles Clarke may have changed his tune from calling the chancellor “deluded” two months ago to backing him for the succession this week. But people who have moaned privately about Mr Brown will surely start to do so again once he is in office. A contest that produces a big win for Mr Brown would give him a mandate to silence the carping. A coronation, especially if it was followed by difficult times as well as good ones, would simply encourage it. It seems extraordinary that after a decade in power no serious Labour figure other than Mr Brown wants to step forward with ideas of his or her own. The deputy contest has become a surrogate, but hardly a sufficient one. If the obstacle is that the threshold of support needed to stand is too high, it should be lowered. If it is fear of doing badly, candidates should be more bold. Mr Brown may well be the best candidate and the winner. But it would be no bad thing if he was given a chance to prove it.”
Looking back twelve months the Tories have a lot to thank David Davies for. It will be recalled that he had been the odds-on front runner for months and then suffered when Cameron came on the scene at the Blackpool conference. In the ballot of MPs to decide the short-list of two to go to the membership Davis came second to Cameron. At that stage Davis was miles behind in the members’ polls and must have been tempted to pull out.
David didn’t and stayed in the race for a further six weeks. In doing so he did himself a lot of good and the party benefited. It made the eventual outcome seem more legitimate and probably helped with the Tory post-election poll boost.
If Gordon does get it without a contest then, no doubt, there will be contrasts with the last time Labour had to find a new leader while in Government in 1976.
Then the party had an amazing array of talent to choose from. Six candidates put themselves forward – Employment Secretary Michael Foot; Foreign Secretary Jim Callaghan; Home Secretary Roy Jenkins; the Chancellor Denis Healey; Tony Benn, the Energy Secretary and Tony Crosland the Environment Secretary. Where are today’s “big beasts?” you can here being asked.
Somehow, as the Guardian says, a Deputy Leadership race with maybe five or six candidates will not be a substitute.
My guess is that the expected Gordon Brown poll bounce for Labour will be smaller and last for a shorter period if there is no proper challenge. What happens if the Tories continue to maintain a lead and look set to win most seats? The could put early pressure on the new Prime Minister.
In the leadership betting Gordon is at 0.29/1.