Where Is Brutus When You Need Him?
There is some confusion about the letters circulating among Labour backbenchers. Are there one or two? Neil Lawson on Radio 5 this morning denied there was a Compass letter (he says it was a press statement not a letter). But there is another letter giving Blair three months to set out a timetable for the election of the new party leader, which at least 50 MP's are ready to sign. Presumably, the plan - if Blair fails to meet the deadline - is to stand a candidate against him in the autumn. Anthony Howard on BBC 1 said that “they are really frightened” by the letter in Downing Street and “they are pretty scared behind the wagons in No. 10”. On the Marr programme this morning Brown spoke repeatedly of the need for “renewal” and for “stable and ordinary transition”, repeating each phrase ad nauseam. But he stopped short of backing the demand for a timetable, taking the line that this is a matter for Blair. Mind you, Brown bridled at being compared to "Rab" Butler (who "always played the game and always lost"). Interestingly, he described Clarke as “a very good friend of mine” and a “very competent Minister” who could "legitimately" expect to return to Cabinet in due course. Apparently, before he was sacked last week, Clarke told Blair he should set a timetable. I would be wary of Clarke if I were Blair; and also of the other losers in this reshuffle: Straw, Kelly, and Hoon (although none of these three are noted for their excess of backbone). Perhaps Margaret Beckett might put loyalty to the party before loyalty and gratitude to Blair (to lose two Foreign Secretaries is carelessness, but three..)? She is said to be closer to Brown than Blair (then again, I can't see her as Foreign Secretary under Brown and, as with all politicians, self-interest comes first). The fatal blow will probably have to come from those close enough to wield the knife. A Brutus (or a Geoffrey Howe) – if someone can summon up the courage - is badly needed. A Brutus who (unlike the original) would prosper under the new regime. But Caesar is resourceful, and if they tarry too long the moment for forcing an early departure may pass. This is the time to act.