Insights from the UK and beyond
Labour MPs reprieve humble Brown – for now
Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meetings are usually drab affairs. The leader turns up, listens to a few grumbles from backbench MPs, a few reporters hang around outside hoping to grab a half-decent quote and in the end a Labour apparatchik puts a rose-tinted spin on proceedings.
Not so on Monday night, one of those rare “crunch time” events for a party leader that creates such a frenzy inside and outside the venue. Parliament’s committee room 14 was so full one MP of robust stature tried to force not one, but two doors in an attempt to get in, and ended up with a sore shoulder. Veteran party member Greville (now Lord) Janner, a member of the Magic Circle, gave up trying to get in and instead entertained reporters with a couple of magic tricks. His skills may have been of more use on the other side of the door.
Gordon Brown, we were led to believe, faced being sawn in half by his own party after a disastrous showing in local and European elections. However, as so often is the case, the reality did not live up to the hype and the prime minister slipped away via a trap door, but not before making a speech telling everyone how humble he was and how he promised to listen in future. This is a classic leader’s smoke and mirrors trick, show them you’re listening, come out with a few “reform” initiatives in the ensuing days and when the air has cleared go back to whatever it was you were doing that upset them in the first place.
Leaders are not unseated at PLP meetings, despite how many times you read that these events are a firing squad. In fact, Brown strolled down the long, dark committee corridor, beamed at reporters and threw them a cheery “hi guys”. His predecessor Tony Blair used to do the same thing ahead of a tricky PLP, the final time with his suit jacket casually thrown over one shoulder like a model from a menswear catalogue.
Brown knew what he had to do, and for now he has bought himself some time. He also knows that the odds of a full blown rebellion are slim. It’s easy to go on television and say “Gordon must go”, it’s another matter to get that anger and dissent distilled into something more potent and then pour it down the throat of a potential challenger. The point is not lost on Labour members. They know they are on the rack, but any change of leadership now will only hasten electoral defeat. The public won’t tolerate another unelected prime minister installed at Number 10 and nor should they. Brown may still be in one piece, but it will take more than magic tricks and humility to save him if he doesn’t make sure his party is in the same state fairly soon.