After an interesting weekend with cabinet ministers firstly backing 'that article' by Hazel Blears then falling over themselves to endorse Brown as leader it seems we are set for a summer of speculation. Every criticism of Brown by a Labour loyalist will be read as evidence that there is a leadership challenge imminent, so it may be a fair question to ask on this basis alone if Brown's position will remain tenable for another year?
Even more problematic, given the number of potential revolts and banana skins that lay before the government, will be the local and European parliamentary elections. Analysis out today indicates that Labour could lose all their councils - even heartlands like Derby - due to a combination of apathy among Labour voters and the Conservatives mobilising their support. An article in the Times suggests that if the projected swing of 12% materialises, which would be required for Labour to lose Derby, then cabinet ministers could lose their seats if there was a similar result at the general election. Clearly those who like a flutter think there is going to be a landslide.
This makes Labour MPs nervous, few can look at their seat and think it is safe, hence they will be staring unemployment in the face in the same way many others are during this recession. While putting them firmly in touch with voters, this is perhaps not quite the connection they wanted. Hence they will look to the reason for their predicament and for potential solutions.
Labour have a problem. There is no immediate successor and it is questionable whether the public would want a third leader within the space of five years any more than they do not want Brown to continue (as public opinion seems to suggest). The other problem is when is a good time to change leader. Major managed to replace Thatcher and get a honeymoon vote to win in 1992, though not without help from a triumphalist Labour party who celebrated a week prior to voting commencing. So could the conference be the best time for a quick coronation?
There clearly cannot be a leadership campaign or election of any great length, though it might generate interest from the public in the party. There does not want to be the emergence of factions around leaders, this would offer a perspective of a divided and weak party trying to cling to victory. But also it seems unavoidable that Labour will lose in June this year and in May of next with Brown as leader. The bigger question is whether an alternative would do better?
Brown's inefficiency seems to be related to his lack of a full time, or in any way decent, team of communication advisers. It is incredible just how often they get it wrong and it can only be compared to the communication disaster that was Michael Foot, but that was 1983 and despite taking over an efficient operation Brown seems to have abandoned all notions of public relations. What the above picture shows is that neither he, not his team, are thinking about image. It does not say he is a bad leader, but it does suggest he lacks full competence. Thus a new leader needs firstly to win over the party, get elected as leader, but then would need to overhaul this team in order to start to build bridges with the voters that would vote Labour but have been won over by Cameron's Conservatives. Simultaneously there is still a country to run and an election to prepare for; and all this in a year. So perhaps the biggest question of all is whether anyone in their right mind would take this on at this point but instead hope for survival at the general election and position to be leader as soon as the dust settles.
So perhaps it is unlikely Brown will go, probably because it is too late and a good successor will not want to be seen as carrying on with the disaster but starting afresh with a post-election blank canvas. Also, it is perhaps not in Brown's psychology to give up. He perhaps sees the problem as his own, but one he can fix, so will not simply shrug and retire. So to avoid a battle with Brown, dividing the already fractured party, and breaking your own career, it seems it is unlikely there will be a serious challenge to Brown this side of 5/5/10.