Alex Hilton: Reshuffle is test of Brown's mettle

The European election has damaged the Prime Minister's standing.

Alex Hilton
Alex Hilton

Already insistent that he will lead Labour into the next election, Gordon Brown's options are to lead a fightback or to lead a descent into electoral annihilation.

So far there has been no cabinet coup to install a caretaker PM. But this is not because nobody wants the job, it is because the caretaker would have to be chosen by agreement rather than by election. None of the contenders would trust anyone to step aside after the election when they could use incumbency to lead the party in the longer term.

Labour cannot afford a leadership election. It would cost about £600,000 to run, which would dent an already light election war chest. But more than that, The Daily Telegraph is still releasing scandals and any leadership election would be coloured by the candidates' expenses rather than issues about vision.

We all know which leadership route Brown is taking when he reshuffles his Government. Promotions for Alan Johnson and Hilary Benn would indicate a serious effort to rebuild public faith in the Government.

Conversely, the mooted promotion to the chancellorship of Ed Balls would be a defensive move that would confirm an insular and pessimistic attitude of resignation from Number 10. You would have to imagine a leader in his bunker, surrounding himself with his most trusted generals, handing them worthless baubles to be taken away when enemy troops overrun his territory.

According to The Sunday Times, Balls is accused of directing a team including Unite's Charlie Whelan and Damian McBride, whose purpose has been to brief against senior Labour figures should they be perceived as a challenge to the PM or a threat to Balls himself.

Should Balls be promoted to a high office of state, the message will go out to ministers and backbenchers that loyalty has no currency, and from that point the whips will be unable to maintain reliably Labour's majority in the Commons. This reshuffle will be a test of the Prime Minister's intent.


Alex Hilton is a Labour parliamentary candidate and founder of political blogs Labourhome and Recess Monkey.

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