Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past couple of days, or try to avoid the political section of the media, you will probably have heard about Labour’s disaster in Glasgow East, where they lost the seat in a by-election to the Scottish National Party. Whilst the SNP only won by a small margin (365 votes), they still managed to overturn a huge Labour majority, in scenes reminiscent of the last general election, where Manchester Withington (my constituency) fell to the Liberal Democrats. Interestingly, a similar percentage swing in Brown’s own constituency would lead to him losing his own seat.
After three by-election defeats (Henley, Crewe and Glasgow East) and the London Mayoral elections disaster, the key question on the lips of most people is: “Does this spell the end of Gordon Brown as leader?” At the time of writing, no leadership challenge has been issued, so presumably the result wasn’t quite bad enough to warrant an immediate backstabbing, but it does leave Brown in a precarious position. If one believes the papers, senior ministers are being urged to get rid of Brown, giving him two months to “shape up or go”.
However, fortunately for Brown, he has the rest of the summer in which to boost his support within the Party, as many MPs will be returning to their constituencies or going on holiday during the recess, so the focus on his leadership skills will be diminished for a month or so. He also has the advantage of there being no obvious successors in the way he was clearly meant to follow Blair – though various names have been touted in the press. Furthermore, replacing the leader so soon before a general election is a risky strategy, and Labour may well prefer to keep their existing man – “better the devil you know” and all that. On the other hand, they could simply accept that their time is up – most parties do not win more than three consecutive general elections – and that people are willing to give the Conservatives another chance to run the country.
My personal verdict is that Brown will survive until Labour Party Conference, which will be the tipping point. If a leadership challenge is going to be issued, that is where it will happen, with all the press and public attention focused on the conference. If nothing solid happens at conference (grumblings and mutterings aside), then Brown is safe until the next election – at which point the public will decide whether his party deserves to hold office. A defeat there will definitely spell the end of his term as Labour Leader.