Early this morning local time, British MPs convened their weekly Monday meeting in the House of Commons committee room and offered Gordon Brown a reprieve, despite Labour veterans Charles Clarke and Stephen Byers demanding that their embattled leader stand down.
The showdown came after European elections left the party with just 15% of the total vote, the worst election result in its history, and a new power block of centre-right parties in Brussels. In some areas, fringe Eurosceptics the UK Independence Party outdid the remnants of New Labour, with its traditional working class base now in open revolt.
Despite the temporary vote of confidence, the pressure on Gordy certainly won’t be dispersing in a hurry, with most commentators considering his leadership untenable. And if the party doesn’t oust him, the electorate almost certainly will, when the government is finally forced to meet its maker at the national polls.
In The Telegraph Andrew Porter reports cautiously on the end of the beginning of the end:
Monday night’s meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party was the last immediate hurdle. Having cleared it Mr Brown can start to try and breathe again having been almost suffocated by the pressure of recent days.
But does that mean he will lead Labour into the election?
That is by no means certain. Even the staunchest rebels were reluctantly admitting last night that Mr Brown has bought some time.
In The Times, Rachel Sylvester says Brown’s breathing space won’t last long, with his tired government effectively on its last legs:
This is a government of the living dead, a zombie administration, devastated, divided and directionless. The Prime Minister has been wounded but not killed. He limps on, disrespected by ministers, resented by backbenchers, disliked by the electorate. He is in office but not in power, strong enough to see off a cack-handed coup but too weak to appoint a chancellor of his choice.
Former Brown acolyte and influential Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee took the opportunity to sink the knife in:
Gordon Brown is not Labour’s only problem, but he is the greatest obstacle to recovery. Delusory denial grips those still defending him, as they warn defenestration would lead to meltdown. But that’s already here – crack up, collapse, catastrophe, the nightmare is real. When he ducked the election, he said he needed time to lay out his vision. Eighteen months later, none has emerged. Will they believe he can do it now?
Last night’s amnesty has more to do with the lack of a viable alternative, says Steve Richards in The Independent:
The first myth to have surfaced in recent days is that senior ministers, in particular David Miliband, were cowardly in not following the supposedly audacious, James Purnell, in resigning from the Cabinet. The opposite is closer to the truth. If Miliband and others had taken the temptingly glamorous alternative course they would have been hailed as heroes by virtually every columnist in the land: “This time Miliband has shown his mettle”. But with good cause lots of them agonised about what would follow such a move. As one cabinet minister put it to me: “Gordon hangs on only because we fear an early election and there was no alternative candidate once Alan Johnson had given Gordon his unambiguous backing”.
For Indy colleague Dominic Lawson, the issue of Brown’s leadership is really just a precursor to electoral oblivion:
When a man is suffering from terminal cancer, he is liable to be persuaded that his best chance is to switch to a diet of broccoli juice, as recommended by his wife, who once saw something amazing about it on the internet. Friends shake their heads privately but decide to humour him. Why not, if it raises his hopes, if only for a few months?
The Labour Party is now in a very similar position. It is determinedly unwilling to believe that its electoral sickness is terminal and thinks that if only Alan Johnson – the broccoli of politics, easy to digest and delightfully flavourless – were somehow painlessly to take control, then a return to normal health could be achieved.
Elsewhere in the Telegraph, the paper’s leader urges Brown to face down his critics:
We now face almost a year of continued uncertainty, because those who have failed to bring him down are not going to leave him alone. This is bad for the country’s reputation abroad and is having deleterious economic consequences in the middle of a recession. Instead of being continually buffeted by events, Mr Brown could bring this matter to a head by challenging his critics to take him on.
But the last word should go to the always powerfully succinct Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun:
The PM is punch-drunk and paralysed. He survived last week’s parade of resignations, sackings and hissy fits but what is left? A dysfunctional Cabinet of cowards, liars and hypocrites . . . leading a government of spivs, cheats and chancers.
We have a Prime Minister who, like Monty Python’s Norwegian Blue, is stuffed but still standing.
And the greatest snake oil salesman in British politics trying to sell us this dead parrot.