The question on everyone’s lips at Westminster this week was how much longer will Gordon Brown last as leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister?
Watching him do his press conference last Friday, I had a slightly different question in mind, namely why would he want to continue? He is never a man who exactly glows with health at the best of times but last Friday he looked drained and exhausted, both physically and emo-tionally. Who could blame him?
The last couple of weeks have not been good ones for the government. The rapid succession of ministers leaving office in the lead up to local council and European Parliamentary elections all made for an enormously difficult few days. Finishing third in both polls only made things worse.
There have been some moments where it was difficult to tell if we were watching a farce or a tragedy. Personally, I never thought that Europe minister Caroline Flint sounded particularly sincere as she went on the late news bulletins to defend the Prime Minister. There was no doubting her sincerity the following day as she resigned from government citing as her reasons the Prime Minister’s personal and political style. Hell hath no fury like a woman denied a cabinet place that she thought her loyalty deserved.
Coming back to Westminster on Monday I expected Labour MPs to be in a state of some agitation, as indeed turned out to be the case. Much press speculation centred around the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting on Monday night. My expectations were not so high. Political assassinations tend to come not from duels at high noon but from ambushes. And so it turned out.
How much of all this really matters? On one view it is really a piece of private grief for the Labour Party. After all, every political party goes through these convulsions from time to time and having lived through the messy removal of one of my own party leaders I know that as well as anyone.
However, the problem goes well beyond the Labour Party and it is something that should concern us all. Gordon Brown is not just leader of the Labour Party but also our Prime Minister. He leads our nation during one of the deepest and most challenging periods of economic downturn we have seen in several decades. For Mr Brown himself it is difficult to see how there can be any way back. Many harsh words were spoken and judgments made last week. These cannot be wished away and those who have resigned as ministers will not suddenly turn round and pledge fresh allegiance.
I suspect that every fresh crisis that arises now will be about the Prime Minister and sooner or later he will be swept away. He may feel that is unfair and as a decent and sincere man he may be right. That, however, is the way politics works. What the country needs now is a general election. Nothing else is going to start our political or economic recovery.