Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Slushy coup underway - latest from the lobby corridor

Today I was going to write about Teresa May's red suede boots, slush on the pavements in London (big news story that) and Gordon Brown's quite good performance at Prime Minister's questions but - hold page 6 - a coup is underway in the Commons.

Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon, two ex-Blairite Ministers have launched a bid to have a secret ballot on Gordon Brown's leadership. The coup was launched at 12.15 by twitter and text, halfway through Question Time. By then David Cameron had sat down and it was only the blackberrys being passed around the Conservative benches and the swift exit of the Prime Minister's spokesman from the press gallery that alerted us.

The lobby 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 anything more than a pile of slush.

The rumours about cabinet resignations and Mandelson's fall out with Downing Street started the moment the Commons returned yesterday. Apparently Brown knew about it just before mid-day when he stood up and gave a super-charged performance at the dispatch box.

Hewitt is on the World at One just now calling for all labour MPs to have a secret ballot. I paraphrase: "If the ballot produces a clear statement of support then those who call from him to go will just have to shut up and get behind him, and we would get united behind him going into the election."

"We're not calling on Gordon to go," she's said. That will raise a gallows laugh in Number Ten. "This is not an attempted coup, this is an attempt to get this sorted once and for all, and then make sure we get rid of this backbiting and concentrate our fire on the hollowness of Cameron and the Conservatives."

What a gift for the opposition, they just have to write a thank you note to the plotters. Angus Roberston, SNP leader, has just been in here calling it all a "Kamakazi car crash". Rebel Labour MPs even think this will end strengthening Brown and the cabinet, none of whom have the courage to walk out and take Mr Brown on openly. The consensus is that the moment passed when James Purnell walked out last summer.

What will probably emerge is Brown strengthened, exactly what the Tories want because every opinion poll tells them that Labour can't win with Brown as leader.

People to watch - apart from the promised press conference later - are Peter Mandelson who will either save him or bury him in the next 24 hours. Keep your eye on Downing Street, oh and on Harriet Harman I'd say.

Bet Mr Brown is glad he didn't start his tour of the south of England today after all.

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