The Choice for Labour - Times Editorialhttp://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/leading_article/article6374927.eceThe Labour party is about to suffer a serious electoral defeat.
The Cabinet now has a big decision to make - whether or not to act
A week today the country goes to the polls for European and local elections that will almost certainly result in an historic drubbing for Gordon Brown's Labour Party.
The likelihood is that Labour will end up at best as loser and at worst as a laughing stock. The Prime Minister is already working on how he plans to respond. Mr Brown is said to be weighing his options for a Cabinet reshuffle, discussing plans for political reform and putting the finishing touches to a national plan in the hope that he can restart the conversation about economic recovery. But it is not the set of choices before the Prime Minister that will command the most attention in the wake of electoral disaster. The vital choice lies with his Cabinet colleagues. This, if they choose to seize it, is their moment.
The likes of John Denham and Jack Straw, David Miliband and James Purnell, John Hutton and Hazel Blears, Geoff Hoon and Alistair Darling must spend the next week asking themselves what they will do in the event of a shattering defeat. Mr Denham has grown tired of being promised funds that never materialise. Mr Miliband and Mr Purnell are exasperated at being regular victims of the self-harming tendencies of Downing Street briefings. Ms Blears has not been the only member of the Cabinet to have something to say about the Prime Minister's performance on YouTube. Mr Darling has made his frustration plain, in private at least, about being made to sell plans handed to him by his next-door neighbour. It is open to them to translate these private frustrations into public action. The fact is that Cabinet members have the power and, within a few days, the opportunity to change Labour's course and they now has to decide.
They could choose action. This would involve a Cabinet minister (or ministers) resigning, voicing in public the frustration with Mr Brown's leadership that is common currency among them. Senior resignations would trigger a leadership contest that, with the slightly mysterious emergence of Alan Johnson as the likely winner, would lead in short order to a general election.
The disadvantage of this course is that the electorate may punish a party that changed its leader for a second time in the course of a single Parliament. It may be that every potential assassin fears the charge of disloyalty. But the advantages suddenly look very marked. The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) would surely breathe a sigh of relief that a senior colleague had finally dared to say what they all say in the tea rooms of the House of Commons. David Cameron's domination of the news cycle would end abruptly as attention shifted to Labour with a new leader and one final shot at renewal.
Of course, Cabinet members may choose not to act. This would involve closing ranks around Mr Brown on the ground that economic recovery will provide a political dividend. This would mean making an honest judgment that, for themselves, for their colleagues in the PLP, for the reputation of the Labour Party and for the sake of good government, they truly believe that Mr Brown offers the best leadership. It is hard to believe, for anyone familiar with the mood of Cabinet and senior Labour advisers, that they think that Mr Brown can deliver the best possible result for the party at the general election.
The question is now whether any of them is prepared to act. For a long while they have steadfastly maintained, at least in public, that the cost of removing the Prime Minister from office was greater than the benefit. Perhaps the verdict of the electorate will steel one or more of them to speak the truth about power. But doing nothing is itself a choice. Either way, Labour's future is not just Mr Brown's but the Cabinet's collective responsibility.