Thursday, 7 January 2010

From Snow plot to slush in five hours

For today's Herald

I was going to write about how much suede protector Teresa May’s red boots needed and that other big story, slush on London pavements, after a nice lunch. But - hold page 6 - a coup plot was launched against Gordon Brown. The third one was due - and what a half-cocked, unorganised, rubber knife assassination attempt it was. But still, it messed up lunch.

News spread by twitter and text halfway through Prime Minister’s Questions while Gordon Brown was giving a gutsy good performance. Blackberrys being passed around the Conservative benches and the swift exit of the Prime Minister’s spokesman from the press gallery alerted us that the balloon had gone up.

Central lobby, where we bump into MPs, was virtually empty when we got down there and the odd Labour rebel left didn’t think this latest (too late?) attempt would amount to more than a pile of slush.

Rumours about cabinet resignations started the moment the Commons returned on Tuesday. Apparently Brown knew something was afoot just before mid-day when he stood up and gave a super-charged performance at the dispatch box.

Everyone ran around with mobiles strapped to their ears pretending they knew something. "We’re not calling on Gordon to go," insisted Patricia Hewitt on radio at lunchtime (Did someone mention lunch?) "This is not an attempted coup, this is an attempt to get this sorted once and for all."

Our slush expert predicted that none of the cabinet had the courage to walk out and that the day would end with Brown’s position strengthened.

What a gift for the opposition. Brown strengthened is exactly what the Tories want as every opinion poll tells them Labour can’t win with Brown as leader.
By 3pm the Polar Plot had frozen. A few "usual suspect" cabinet loyalists had spoken for Brown - Shawn Woodward and Ed Balls to the barricades.

Woodward had a point - with 120 days to a general election the country will be simply astonished at the behaviour of the plotters.

Brown’s convoy left the Commons just two hours and fifteen minutes after the plot unfolded. Bet he was glad he didn’t start his tour of the south of England yesterday after all.

Rumours swirled in the snow. Jack Straw was to lead the rebuttal operation and Peter Mandelson was due on Newsnight. But by 4pm, with darkness falling, no big beasts had come to Brown’s defence. Like previous botched attempts courage was the only ingredient missing from the atmosphere in Westminster. Did senior members of the cabinet - let’s name them: Mandelson, Straw, Miliband, Darling - have neither the guts to either stop this or to dip their hands in blood.

In the hiatus, while ministers watched and waited, suspicion grew that the cabinet was wobbling. What took them so long to endorse Mr Brown? Darling issued a statement saying that he wasn’t to be "distracted" from economic recovery. Hardly an endorsement and Labour backbenchers shook their heads as time drifted on.

The loyalty dripped in an hour before teatime. Harriet Harman issued her statement last a "friend" of David Miliband has said this is not going anywhere. It was all over at 6.18pm. The Snow Plot was a slushy coup.

How different today’s headlines could have been. Brown brilliant at Question Time, a narrowing gap in the polls, Teresa May’s suede protector bill. Instead it was coup and flop with Mandelson putting all children to bed with a nice story. Is Gordon Brown the unluckiest politician of his generation? You bet.

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