Insights from the UK and beyond
Brown and out?
As much as stunned Labour MPs wander around like Corporal Jones telling each other not to panic after the dreadful result for them in Crewe, many of the newspapers believe Gordon Brown’s days are now numbered.
The Guardian, under the headline “Brown faces meltdown,” says he is facing the gravest crisis of his premiership in the run-up to the Autumn party conference. Like many other newspapers it says the decision to dress Labour activists in top hats and deride the Conservative candidate as a “toff” was a fundamental mistake, albeit one endorsed by Brown.
“Deciding who was responsible for the approach will be a central part of any Labour inquest,” the paper said.
The Daily Express says Brown is now likely to face a “stalking horse” leadership challenge in the Autumn, possibly from a former minister like Charles Clarke or Alan Milburn, with a view to getting rid of him well before the next general election.
Any attempts to unseat Brown will not be forgiven, the Daily Mirror says potential rebels have been told. The paper says Downing Street fears Blairite supporters will be giving interviews this weekend trying to undermine the leader.
Several papers believe Brown will have difficulty coming up with a raft of new policy announcemenets to rejuvenate Labour, having already unveiled many plans in last week’s draft Queen’s speech and moved to defuse the 10p income tax row.
A snap cabinet reshuffle looks unlikely for fear of appearing a panic measure, comments the Independent.
The Daily Mail says some estimates suggest 70 to 90 Labour MPs have given up on Brown altogether with another 120 wavering. But it notes that with the week-long Whitsun recess now having bugun, there is unlikely to be any immediate move to unseat him.
The Mail is among several papers to point to John Major as an example of how difficult it actually is to get rid of a sitting Prime Minister, however unpopular.
“Mr Brown’s fate will ultimately be decided by the Parliamentary Labour Party which meets on Monday week to mull over the result,” it declares.
The Sun calls the result a “Crewe cut” for Brown and says voters punished Labour for soaring household bills and uncontrolled immigration.
The Daily Telegraph likens Labour to the Titanic: “with Gordon Brown at the helm, it is heading staright towards the iceberg that is the next general election,” its political editor Andrew Porter writes, noting that Brown’s best hope — an upturn in the economy — looks increasingly unlikely.
Crewe was a protest “on an epic scale” for the Financial Times
“There will be no shortage of advice for the prime minister, much of it conflicting,” writes Philip Stephens. “He should give definition to his premiership, show purpose for his government; he should swing back onto Blairite reformist ground; or perhaps he should lurch to the left to win back the core vote. He should smile more; or perhaps he should just be himself.”
The paper finds one glimmer of hope for Labour — that those knocking on the doors in Crewe and Nantwich found little evidence of a groundswell for the Conservatives, it says. The voters were more concerned to bash Labour than embrace the Tories.
But Stephens adds: “The comparison that will haunt him this weekend, though, is with the Eastbourne by-election in the autumn of 1990. Margaret Thatcher lost the seat to the Liberal Democrats on a 20 percent swing – and within a month she was gone.”