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The Weekly TelegraphIssue No. 928
Continued From Page 1 a heart and soul battle. There are signs that certain constituency parties are growing really Left-wing. Senior Labour figures have said to me, ‘If that happens, I’m off’.”
At the weekend, in a highly personal assault, Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary, warned of “dire” consequences if Mr Brown failed to learn lessons and said voters greeted his government’s initiatives and speeches with “incredulity”.
Miss Blears, a strong supporter of Tony Blair during his years at Number 10, ridiculed Mr Brown for going on YouTube to make an announcement about MPs’ expenses. “YouTube if you want to,” she declared in a newspaper article. “But it is no substitute for knocking on doors or setting up stall in the town centre.”
She also claimed that over the Gurkhas, the Government had put itself “on the wrong side of British fair play”.
Miss Blears’s remarks triggered panic last Saturday night at Number 10. Within an hour of the article being made public she issued a statement backing Mr Brown and seeking to “clarify” her position.
“I want to make it clear that the Prime Minister enjoys my 100 per cent support. Any suggestion that I intended what I wrote as criticism of him or his leadership is completely wrong,” her statement said.
“I fully support the collective decisions we take as a government. My article simply calls for the Labour Party to hit the streets, campaigning against the Tories in the forthcoming local and European elections.”
‘He’s terrified of catching
the 50p tax rate’
‘Apparently, everyone who has bought a car this year could fit inside one of these’
Despite the statement, however, there were severe doubts over Miss Blears’s long-term future as a member of the Cabinet. Her criticisms far outstripped those of David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, last summer, which were seen as paving the way for a possible leadership challenge.
Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, appeared this week
‘If leadership doubts can be passed from human to human it’s curtains for
to be the main beneficiary of Miss Harman’s decision on Monday to rule herself out from standing for the leadership if Mr Brown leaves office before the next election.
Miss Harman said she did not want to be Labour leader or Prime Minister.
Her announcement was made a day after Mr Johnson surprised colleagues by refusing to rule himself out of any
future leadership contest. Some Labour MPs believe he could become a face-saving alternative to Mr Brown’s leadership.
However, it would have to be as a compromise and unity candidate put in place just to fight the next election if Mr Brown decided to step down. After that there would be a full-blown contest, in all likelihood with Labour in opposition. The main obstacle to the coronation of a stop-gap candidate was expected to be Miss Harman. Her denial of any ambition to be leader has removed that barrier.
In response to a Daily Telegraph article disclosing that Miss Harman had indicated she would not allow Mr Johnson or another candidate to step unopposed into any gap vacated by Mr Brown, the minister shocked colleagues at Westminster by explicitly ruling herself out.
She said: “I am saying there are no circumstances ... I do not want to be Prime Minister, I do not want to be leader of the party. I want to be Gordon Brown’s loyal and supportive deputy.”
On Desert Island Discs in October 2007, Mr Johnson said he did not think he had “the capabilities” to be leader. However on Sunday, after he made clear he was loyal to Mr Brown, when he was asked if he would accept the top job he said: “I am not saying there would be no circumstances.”
Among Mr Brown’s supporters there is suspicion that the real threat comes from outside the Cabinet in the form of ex-senior ministers who were close to Tony Blair, including Stephen Byers, the former transport secretary, and Alan Milburn, the former health secretary.
GORDON BROWN’S exhaustion is becoming an embarrassment. He makes superhuman efforts to hide, perhaps even from himself, how tired he is, only to give the game away by some foolish slip.
Like a drunk who can put on a fair impression of being sober until an empty gin bottle falls out of his pocket, so Mr Brown got through Prime Minister’s Questions all right but then made the elementary mistake of trying to leave the Chamber.
The Speaker, Michael Martin, said “Statement, the Prime Minister”, but to our astonishment we saw Mr Brown hurrying towards the exit.
His front-bench colleagues pointed out to him that he was expected to give a statement on his travels in Afghanistan and Pakistan, so he executed a swift aboutturn. But the damage had been done and a wave of laughter broke over him.
Nor was this an isolated error. Mr Brown also referred to “President Bush” instead of President Obama, spoke of “exports” instead of experts and described himself as “very sensible” when he meant “very sensitive”.
The more tired and erratic Mr Brown becomes, the more he tries to compensate by over-exerting himself. He has just been on a trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Poland on which he allowed himself and his companions virtually no sleep.
Nick Clegg, for the Liberal Democrats, wondered whether Britain has an “exit strategy” for Afghanistan, but Mr Brown’s comrades must be wondering if he has an “exit strategy” for the Labour Party.
The sad truth is that day by day it becomes clearer that the Prime Minister’s occupation of the Labour Party has not been a success and his forces are now too weak to enforce his writ outside the heavily fortified
“Brown zone” in Downing Street.
The tribal strife which has traditionally plagued the Labour Party has broken out with renewed ferocity after a period of relative peace and prosperity under Tony Blair’s leadership, with Mr Brown infuriating the Blairites by throwing in his lot with the numerically larger, but intellectually weaker, class warriors who want to tax the rich to extinction. When these socialists, as they are technically known, look across the Chamber they are infuriated to see wealthy Tories engaged in unhindered cultivation of the Poppy, or getting engaged to attractive and wellconnected women called Poppy, or even handing out safe Tory seats to candidates called Poppy. Whatever the Tories are up to with Poppy and her friends, they look far too happy in the eyes of Labour’s class warriors.
Clive Efford (Lab, Eltham) seized the chance at Prime Ministers Questions to have
a crack at “millionaires’ row on the Opposition benches”, but the Tories did not appear discomfited, for they take this kind of rhetoric as confirmation that Labour is retreating into its tribal areas, somewhere with which the respectable middle classes have no desire to be associated. Mr Clegg took up the cause of the Gurkhas and demanded, after listening to Mr Brown’s rambling and evasive reply: “What kind of answer is that? It is the answer of a man who seems to know that he is doing a shameful thing, but does not have the guts to admit it or change it.” Mr Brown lost the vote on the Gurkhas which was held a few hours later.
The Prime Minister has always demanded absolute obedience, yet can no longer get enough of his own troops to obey him to ensure victory in the Commons.
It must be driving him mad.