When dull men take drastic measures
Turn on the radio, tune in to BBC News 24, drop in, if you must, to an internet cafe, but whatever you do, stay abreast of events, because anything might happen this weekend and, most intriguingly, the consequences flowing from whatever might happen are not easy to discern.
There is no point in being falsely modest, but it was more than a week ago in the Commons tearoom, when talking with Crock of Newsnight, that I posited the theory that Darling might be Howe. My logic was simple. The knife is best wielded not by an hysteric like Heseltine or Mandelson, but by a plodder. When dull men are forced to take drastic measures, then the audience takes note. If Darling were to tour the studios carefully detailing Brown’s myriad flaws, the game would be up for the PM.
Which, of course, is the last thing any right-thinking Tory wants. We want an election and we want it now, obviously, but we would prefer to contest it against Brown because even one of Sir Peter Viggers’s ducks would fancy its chances against the present incumbent. But it is vital that Darling stay in situ next door. If Brown sacrifices Darling for Balls, then even the yellowest-belly Blairite would have to act, and it would presage a change of curtains for Brown. DC understands this, which is why he has kept his criticisms so general. He talks of fripperies and barbecues rather than naming and shaming individuals.
Little George Osborne, once again, has been less supple. His comments about Darling being a lame-duck chancellor were as unhelpful as they were hypocritical. “Where is Ken when we need him?” demanded the cognoscenti, a question asked on a pretty much weekly basis since the Fat Man’s supposed return.
Even if Darling survives the reshuffle on Friday, we still have Sunday to negotiate. There is such a real possibility that Labour might fall behind “Others” in the European vote that some of our more strategic thinkers are wondering if it is too late to redirect a block of our voters towards Labour to spare them this humiliation. Finish fourth in Europe, they argue, and Brown would be toast. Except, if he has reshuffled his pack by then, the options might be limited. If in the current feverish climate changing your expenses claim is considered poor form, imagine how the public would react to someone accepting a cabinet post on Friday, sitting in front of the telly on Sunday, and mounting a leadership challenge on Monday.
This is why I have counselled against any tactical voting to shore up the Labour vote in the hope the weekend pans out thus:
a) Labour does appallingly, but slightly better than expected, in the county council elections.
b) A relieved Brown does not detonate “explosive reshuffle” but merely dispenses with Smith and Hoon.
c) A relieved cabinet expresses loyalty.
d) Euro election finishes with Tories 42 per cent, Others 29 per cent, Lib Dems 15 per cent, Labour 14 per cent.
e) So many of Brown’s enemies within his party flock forward to announce they will stand down at the next election that the PM, in a moment of spite, calls that election.
f) The European result is repeated nationally.
Unlikely, perhaps, but we live in unlikely times.