Less than six months from the latest possible date for a general election, ex-ministers Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon have called for a leadership contest in the Labour party. Hewitt, who is stepping down as an MP, said “This is not an attempted coup”, which tidily gets the word ‘coup’ into popular discussion without making it her words.
What are we to make of this?
The first duty of government — and of opposition — is to serve the nation. Whether or not we like Gordon Brown, the Labour Party already had one chance to vote him in, or someone else. In the event, no-one else came forward, and Brown won by default. But it was a leadership contest, and they got the leader they collectively chose. With the economy in a parlous state, parliament’s own reputation in substantial trouble, and a leadership contest of a much more serious nature at the General Election looming, the nation is in no way served by panic in its ruling party.
If Gordon Brown had been caught with his fingers in the till, or was putting forward some dramatic U-turn which required a new mandate from his party, then a leadership contest might have been the right thing to do. But a contest to (allegedly) settle doubt and get things “sorted out once and for all”, will do no such thing. John Major tried to bolster his flagging leadership two years before an election, and it did nothing to establish his credibility. In fact, it only made him look weaker.
I’m sure that the majority of Labour MPs will have the sense to ignore it — if only out of self-interest. More chaos in Downing Street will simply rob them of votes they could still have counted on.
We need to leave this storm in a tea-cup behind, and get back to the proper business of politics. The pre-election debate has started. It is too late to change the debaters.