This week’s Crewe and Nantwich by-election marks a big change in British politics. After running a truly nasty, class-based campaign, the Labour Party lost heavily in what was previously considered a safe seat, with an 18-point swing to David Cameron’s Conservative opposition. If those results were replicated in a general election it would give the Conservatives a majority of more than 300, reducing the Parliamentary Labour Party to just 100 or so MPs.
Coming after catastrophic local elections and the loss of the London Mayoralty, Gordon Brown’s future is looking very shaky indeed – to the point that many people, including the impeccably well-informed Ben Brogan, don’t think he’ll make it to the next election.
Could it really happen? Personally, I’m not so sure. The formal procedure required for the Labour Party to remove a sitting leader makes a coup unlikely, so Gordon Brown would have to step down voluntarily – which I can’t imagine. Having wanted to be PM for so long, he’ll prefer to cling on as long as possible.
More to the point – would anyone else really want the job at this stage? Ambitious politicians will want to wait until after the next election, rather than take over a sinking ship and captain it to a landslide defeat (a sure-fire way to end a career in Westminster). Any new leader would probably be forced into calling an early general election – the public would not take kindly to having a second unelected prime minister imposed on them in a single parliament – and would have almost no opportunity to turn things around.
I may be wrong, but I think we’re going to have to put up with Gordon Brown for a little while yet.