Where does the real power now lie?
In one sense, Gordon Brown was right: it was all a bit of a storm in a teacup. A couple of former ministers called for a vote on Brownâ€™s leadership and the overwhelming majority of Labour MPâ€™s didnâ€™t come out to support that call. Result: Brown win.
However, by the same token, neither were MPâ€™s and ministers rushing to man the defences of the PM. If Brown is to lead Labour into the election – and Iâ€™m convinced now that he will – by far his strongest card is inertia: it will take just too much effort to shift him if he doesnâ€™t want to go, which he plainly doesnâ€™t.
Unfortunately for Brown, as he himself found out during the Summer, that inertia works both ways. The decidedly luke-warm support from his cabinet colleagues is a statement of their own power against his, just as Alistair Darlingâ€™s refusal to be moved from the Treasury was.
If they donâ€™t have the power to move him (or at least, it not being worth the cost), then neither does he have the power to slap them down.
By extension, his ability to interfere in departmental matters has diminished markedly because that ability rests on the trump card of being able to make the appointments; legal powers rest with the Secretaries of State.
How far will they decide to use those powers? One of the comments I found most interesting was that of the Chancellor, who said
“As far as I’m concerned we should be concentrating on the business of government and getting through the recession. The PM and I met this afternoon and we discussed how we take forward economic policies to secure the recovery. I won’t be deflected from that.”
Two things stand out to me: the absence of any positive statement of support for his next door neighbour and the final six words. The inference of that last sentence is that he has his own ideas about the measures necessary and intends to make them the core of the Budget heâ€™s expecting to deliver in three months or so, even if theyâ€˜re not Brownâ€˜s. The middle sentence is just so weak compared with the two either side: the two which state Darlingâ€™s priorities.
Having apparently lost out in the preparations prior to the PBR, is Darling now preparing to win the second round and deliver a Budget which places a greater emphasis on dealing with the deficit than Brown would like? If so, what can the PM do about it?