To be or not to be?

Of course there should be a debate between the main party leaders. It would put them on their metal in front of the nation – where we pick up all kinds of signals (most of which have little to do with policy) and see how they deal with pressure under fire. One of the problems, however, is that the conditions that are put down before someone like the PM will take part will probably sterilise the process – perhaps even to the point of pointlessness – and the ‘dealing with pressure under’ fire is totally minimised. Secondly – the incumbent has the advantage of office and so never really wants to give the others the exposure – let alone give them a chance to outshine them. And – given Gordon Brown’s cowardice quota (as Chancellor he used to let his junior ministers take the difficult questions at Treasury Questions) it is hard to imagine he will grow the balls to get out there and fight.

But as for someone who loves getting out there and fighting the fight – I have a confession, I’m a bit of a fan of Peter Mandelson. I know – you’re not meant to say things like that and no – I don’t agree with his policies etc etc etc. But this guy is clever, clever, clever – and a real operator.

Although I knew that he ditched Brown for Blair in the leadership contest – and therefore was never to be forgiven – I hadn’t really fully appreciated his Machiavellian talents fully. I just hope that he is keeping extensive and honest notes – because if his autobiography tells the truth one day – it will be the most fascinating read ever.

I remember doing the Westminster Hour on a Sunday night the week that Gordon announced his was bringing Mandelson back from Europe, popping him into the Lords and making him Business Minister. I said that I had been completely taken aback by the move because it was brave, clever, shocking and I didn’t think Gordon had the balls to have the vision to take this brilliant strategic move. Retrospectively, I am now sure that it was Mandelson’s proposal – not Brown’s. And of course – you have to pay the piper – which is why Mandelson now sits on all the important Government committees and pulls the strings. Where will his rise and rise end? Will we see him come back to lead the Labour Party post Brown?

Helicopters again!

Gordon Brown in his statement to the Commons on the G8 – which was mostly about Afghanistan – re-iterated the same exact statistics on helicopters that Harriet gave at PMQs. He said that we had increased them 60% in the last two years as well as increasing the flying time capability. Many members referred to the need for helicopters – but the Prime Minister just repeated the mantra again.

I managed to get called myself to ask him what percentage of that 60% increase were helicopters that can transport troops. Once again he re-iterated the figures he had now given a number of times. I can understand he didn’t want to give numbers – but percentages should have been alright.

He went further than Harriet in that he did say that both types of helicopter were in that 60%. What is so difficult though without a proper answer – is to know whether the Government is hiding the fact that so few of the helicopters in that additional 60% could actually carry troops or whether it is a military secret.

Reshuffle thoughts

So – whilst we’re waiting for tonight’s results in the Euros – I pause to wonder how the mighty (and not so mighty) are fallen. I guess Caroline Flint has the most egg on face . To support Brown publicly and then execute a complete volte face to diss him certainly doesn’t help her message re window dressing. And during her stints as Minister for Housing and Europe she hasn’t really registered.

I am surprised, however, that Dawn Primarolo, didn’t get a promotion – as she has impressed me. She was particularly good at steering through the Embryology Bill – which was hardly the easiest of gigs – but which she did successfully, authoritively and well.

Looking at Gordon Brown’s record from the outside – and his behaviour and attitude to women – Caroline Flint probably has a point in that the Prime Minister always seems uncomfortable with the women in the Cabinet. The shame is that the accusation came from such a flawed quarter. He clearly damned and dumped Blears. He was underwhelmed by Flint. He failed to support Jacqui Smith. Conversely – he has protected Darling, Hoone, Purnell – although with hindsight he might have not bothered.

Harriet Harman has handled herself and the situation pretty well over recent weeks – and as she actually is the only person with a mandate (albeit not loved by her brethren – and I do mean brethen) maybe she could push further forward. Round and round she goes – where she stops nobody knows…


Game on – blimey! Came in from election at around 11pm to find news of James Purnell’s resignation. As the night wore on – it seemed the senior cabinet members were rallying around – but they would, wouldn’t they?

Of course – given the nature of Brown – he won’t cave in or go quietly – and the ultimate threat he holds in his big clunking fist is to go to the Palace and call for a general election. I reckon he would do that in preference to an ignominious exit. That is his trump card – his only card right now.

As the reshuffle takes shape – we will see whether there is one last play of the dice – or not.

Watching the tumultuous nature of history in the making is something quite extraordinary to experience first(ish) hand. But in the four years I have been in Parliament – it seems it is always thus – a brutal rough trade indeed. I looked at Gordon during PMQs on Wednesday – where given the pressure he didn’t do too badly. I wonder how anyone is tough enough (or egotistical enough) to bear these moments. Backed into a corner and fighting for his political life – but still fighting.

As today moves on – we will see the full effect of the election results and the scale of the meltdown in Labour. In eight hours of telephone canvassing for the Euros yesterday – I found very, very few Labour voters. But who knows – the dire straights that Labour are now in may make those who bleed Labour if you cut them cleave to their tribal past – whether from pity or loyalty – who knows. Today and then on Sunday (with the European election results) we’ll see.

As for Purnell – I wonder – did he think this was his moment? If fortune favours the brave and who dares wins – did he think that this was his moment for a footnote in history, his chance to make his mark and be a serious player in future years? This game of chess is not quite at checkmate, however, and depending what happens next – we will see if he was brave – or foolish?

Going, going, … gone?

Listening to the news. Jacqui Smith gone. Hazel Blears gone. To live through and witness the end of the old order is a sombre experience – a necessary experience – but a sombre and sobering one.

As the government of this country goes into free fall – the shameful secrets of the establishment unmasked – the flawed character of a Prime Minister who doesn’t understand leadership in a modern age – the calculated death by a thousand knives as they plunge into Gordon Brown today – each one landing another death blow – as cabinet ministers murder the man who put them where they are. Et tu brute?

So – just coming up to PMQs. Cannot imagine at a human level how you get up and go out there to fight your corner when the pressure is so immense it must be hard even to breathe. Quite how Gordon Brown will be able to form a new administration as all these blows rain in, I don’t know. He should accept the inevitable and resign. Given his character he may not. But if he cannot form an administration – it might not be out of character for him to go to the Palace next week and let loose the dogs of war.

I never knew it would be like this.

Who should be Labour's Chancellor?

How on earth can Gordon Brown think that Ed Balls is the answer? Do not Ed and Yvette have equally damaging question marks over their housing arrangements? And does he really think that re-ordering the deckchairs on the Titanic would have helped?

I suppose reading The Observer’s praise for the Liberal Democrats as “consistent and principled” and it being time to give us our due together with Polly Toynbee’s suggestion that people should vote Lib Dem in the Euro elections on Thursday may feed his mania. The pressure to come up with an answer is unbearable – but there are no answers from Labour that can appease the unhappiness and disgust stalking our land.

And I notice the sudden desire of Labour apparatchiks to make friends of the Liberal Democrats and try desperately to breathe life into the dead dodo of some sort of arrangement has been peppering the pages of the papers. They wished! The Tories too flirt with and praise us. A plague on both their houses is my own sentiment!

Where is Gordon Brown?

They seek him here. They seek him there. If ever there was an example of failure to lead from Gordon (bunker mentality) Brown – his deafening silence at this time of crisis is it.

I find it unimaginable that the Prime Minister of this country has no seeming instinct for what is needed; no sense of purpose in leadership and no ideas for resolution. But that is what we see unfolding before our very eyes.

The old ways are dead Gordon. You should have seen what would happen. You should not have dithered and dallied. You should be out there leading the way.