Tuesday, June 09, 2009

They banged their desks with approval. For Gordon Brown the coup was over.

It certainly sounds as if, for now, the coup is over.

On the dot of 6pm today, a cheerful- looking Gordon Brown marched along the dimly lit committee corridor of the House of Commons to face one of the most packed meetings of the parliamentary Labour party in its history.

"Hi guys, it's a big attendance this evening," the prime minister said to the assembled media as he walked into the large committee room, overlooking the Thames, where backbench Labour MPs were planning to attack his leadership.

As Brown made his way through to the platform, MPs clapped and banged their desks in what No 10 will hope will be seen as a significant show of loyalty.

Latecomers, including Lady Royall, leader of the Lords, were unable to open the committee room doors for sheer weight of numbers. As four police officers stood guard outside the committee room – the highest number since the first ecstatic meeting of the PLP after Tony Blair's landslide election victory in 1997 – the veteran peer Lord Janner performed magic tricks after failing to make it inside.

Inside, a lineup of Labour heavyweights from the party's recent history were on hand to hear the prime minister. Lord Mandelson, Ed Balls, Harriet Harman and Alan Johnson headed the list of senior cabinet ministers who were joined by Lords Kinnock and Hattersley, the former leader and deputy leader.

Oh, there were some who spoke negatively:

It took a figure who first made his name in the Kinnock era to say what was on the minds of many MPs. Charles Clarke, chief of staff to the former Labour leader who went on to become home secretary under Blair, was heard in stony silence as he stood up to tell Brown that he should go. Clarke was supported by Tom Harris, the Blairite former transport minister who was sacked by Brown last year.

Of the 21 members of the PLP who spoke out, five were against Brown.

And that would appear to be that. They have thrown their big guns at him. They have poured petrol on to the fire of public anger over the expenses scandal, they have watched as Labour falls to it's worst position in the polls since WWII, and now they appear to realise that they have come to the end of the road.

If they push any further it is their own seats which will be on the line.

They appear to be mad but not utterly insane.

So, Gordon - for now - appears to have seen off the coup. But the plotters are still in the wings, they are still waiting.

He needs to drive them away with some decisive positive Labour policy. He needs to make the fact that he is in the driving seat count for something.

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