What now for Gordon Brown?


Last week's local elections were pretty disastrous for the prime minister, Gordon Brown, and his ruling Labour Party. They lost hundreds of council seats – not just in marginal areas, but in the Labour heartlands too – and were beaten into third place in the popular vote by the Liberal Democrats. Even worse, Labour lost the London Mayoralty to Tory Boris Johnson – and the support of the capital city is correctly regarded as a pre-requisite for any general election success. All in all, these were the worst local election results Labour has endured since the 1960s, so I'd say 10 Downing Street is not a happy place to be right now.

Yet it remains very unlikely that Gordon Brown's leadership will be challenged. The Parliamentary Labour Party are much less prone to coups than their Conservative counterparts and, besides, there is not yet anyone who can realistically challenge the prime minister. On the Blairite side, David Miliband is not sufficiently established, Alan Johnson not sufficiently ambitious, and Charles Clarke not sufficiently popular. If there is trouble, it is more likely to come from the left of the party – John McDonnell, perhaps – who think old-fashioned socialism is the best route to electoral success. It isn't, of course, and most of the Labour Party knows it, so Brown should be safe for now.

The question remains though, what should he do with his leadership? On this front, it is vital that he is seen to be bold and decisive. He needs to set out a clear direction for his party, make radical policy proposals and then stick with them. How about this – in order to fight poverty, he should take the poor out of the tax system altogether and eliminate the absurd marginal tax rates which condemn millions to a life of state handouts. And in order to reduce inequality, he should reform public services, so that everyone is free to exercise consumer choice – and not just the rich who can afford to go private.

No, come to think of it, I can't see that happening either.