Labour plotters will bide their time in plan to oust Brown
INSIDE WESTMINSTER ONE does not have to listen too hard to hear the sound of knives being sharpened along the halls of Westminster.
The Commons has been awash with rumours that the Prime Minister could face a challenge from disgruntled former Blairites.
Despite the volatility of polls, The Scotsman understands that this is more serious than just moans over the 10p tax row and the usual tittle-tattle.
The real question is one of timing, according to ministers and MPs.
The most realistic time to mount a leadership challenge – if the party's decline looks irreversible – is June 2009, after the double poll whammy of English local and European elections. The last, and most likely, time for a challenge, therefore, would be at Labour's conference next year. At this point, Gordon Brown could be urged to stand down with dignity.
One senior Labour source said: "The European and English local elections would be the last chance for Gordon to show he can't turn things around. If it becomes obvious we are going to lose the election, we may as well rip it up and start again."
In the event of a hammering at those elections, insiders believe Mr Brown would voluntarily go rather than invite inevitable comparisons with Jim Callaghan, the former Labour prime minister who delayed calling an election and then steered the party to defeat.
There have been reports that former Blairite Cabinet ministers Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn could be used as "stalking horses". No-one contacted by The Scotsman would support this. However, they recognise a poke in the ribs from the Blairites would pressure Mr Brown to create a modernising narrative more quickly.
In private, MPs close to Jack Straw, the Constitutional Affairs Secretary, have been more frank in questioning Mr Brown's leadership.
David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, seems to have gone lukewarm on the leadership – for now. However, several sources have said James Purnell, the Culture Secretary, would stand in the event of a vacancy.
Luckily for Mr Brown, the mechanics of changing leader are cumbersome enough to put off anyone tempted to do so by flighty polls.
For a challenge, Mr Brown must go voluntarily, or a fifth of the parliamentary Labour Party has to back a change in leader. The proposal has to be accepted by Labour's ruling national executive committee at its autumn conference. And a year is a long time in politics.
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