Today has been an extraordinary day in British Politics. In July 1962 Prime Minister Harold Macmillan organised a major Cabinet reshuffle known as the ‘the night of long knives’ (after the nazi purge of the brown shirts). Eight Ministers were sacked in one go.
Today the knives have been directed at the prime minister. Less than 24 hours after criticising James Purnell for his resignation Caroline Flint added hers to the growing list of ministerial resignations. Her resignation became public knowledge whilst Brown was in mid press conference insisting that he would continue to lead the country and the party and though neither “arrogant” nor “complacent” believed himself to be the best person for the job. Whilst resolute Brown’s assertions were reminiscent of Thatcher’s insistence at a Paris press briefing in 1990 that she would stand in a second ballot for the Tory leadership. She didn’t.
When the European results heap more humiliation on Labour on Sunday the heat will be turned up another notch. Next week like so many before it will be a long one for Labour and for Brown.
The European election result in the UK may well be all about UKIP. The main parties are all largely tarred with the same brush so the smaller parties like UKIP and the Green Party will benefit.
The results will occupy the news agenda for a few days but that will only serve to act as a distraction from the real issues in the run up to the General Election. If the announcement of the departure of Hazel Blears today, following on from those of her cabinet colleagues yesterday was intended to bring the Labour leadership crisis to a head the timing was poor. The disruption in the senior ranks of the government party will hand the news agenda to the beneficiaries of the protest vote.
The media will return to discussion of the crisis at the heart of government as soon as the dust has settled on the Euro vote.
With less than a year to go before an election a party in government never forces a leader out. Received wisdom says it would be electoral suicide. Government MPs would never sanction a move that might see them turfed out of the house. But what if defeat is inevitable anyway? What if the circumstance were so unusual that enough government MPs thought the only way to save their seat was a spot of modern day ‘regicide’? What is is that they say about exceptions?
Two top cabinet ministers plus the cabinet office minister are on their way out. Jacqui Smith has told Gordon she want to go, Tom Watson has told friends he wants to go and pretty much everyone has told Gordon they want Alistair Darling to go. Thursday will see a trouncing for Labour particularly in Europe and but also in local government. MPs are are ducking and diving to save their skins as ‘moatgate’ continues. The demands for an immediate election are getting louder and Gordon’s siren calls on constitutional reform won’t drag the demands off course.
Gordon won’t call an election before he has to. He has form on that score. The inevitable course will lead Labour further down in the polls. How long is it before the ageing young turks near the top of the party decide that the only way to buy time and offset a defeat so large that it may mean decades in the wilderness, is a coup?