The plot against Brown thickens

Will the rebels get the job done?

There have been rumours of one final rebellion against Gordon Brown all week and now it's said to have reached cabinet level. Paul Waugh of the Evening Standard has the story. He says:

In the last few hours, the rumours have been swirling around again that a cabinet minister could quit in protest at Gordon's leadership. The plotters have certainly asked a sympathetic minister to do so -- but whether he will do so is another matter.

Channel 4's Gary Gibbon adds:

Now I hear that phones ran hot between backbench MPs, junior ministers and at least two cabinet members, it is claimed, over the Christmas break about how to bring the PM down.

If the rebels do make their move, let's hope they finish the job this time. A failed rebellion would be the worst of all possible outcomes for Labour. I'm convinced that the absence of a pre-eminent, Heseltine-style challenger remains a fatal stumbling block to a successful putsch.

But it's not surprising that significant parts of the PLP are considering one last heave against Brown. The psephological case against the PM remains formidable. As I've noted before, no prime minister as unpopular as him has gone on to win the subsequent election. Philip Gould has told the cabinet that Labour could win only if it replaced Brown.

The best argument I've heard for removing Brown is that a new leader will provide a poll bounce for Labour at just the moment the party needs it most. Had Brown been forced out last summer, the bounce would have ended by the election.

I expect more backbenchers to take up this argument in the coming days.


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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.