Two very different versions of what happened at tonight’s Parliamentary Labour Party meeting are emerging.
On the one hand, every Labour MP I’ve spoken to agrees that Gordon Brown will be leader until the election, as some of us have always predicted. “The party is overwhelmingly united,” said one MP.
On the other hand, there is an element of dejection, too. “Brown was talking about change but the one thing he won’t change is himself,” said one rebel.
However, the most recent rebel leaders — Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt — were not present at the meeting, and an MP I spoke to said there was no sign of the former home secretary Charles Clarke, either. “There was some really nasty stuff about Hoon and Hewitt at the beginning, but Nick Brown [the Chief Whip] eventually calmed that down.”
The Prime Minister, who is “playing it long”, according to MPs, said the party had to focus now on the economy because the stakes will be so high for Labour and the country in the coming months. Apparently Harriet Harman talked about the need to win over women voters. Peter Mandelson also spoke.
According to a source, the only MP to speak openly against Brown was David Winnick. But, said one rebel MP who chose not to speak out, “Lots of the people in that room were either peers or are quitting: what about getting the candidates in so they can tell us what is happening on the ground?”
Several MPs agreed that Labour is now in the worst of all worlds. “Brown is staying but he is weakened and boxed in,” said one. Yet, in the end, the much-hyped meeting appears to have been something of an anticlimax. Hoon and Hewitt’s move, Labour MPs say, showed that rebellions at this stage only help David Cameron.
That may have been the calculation made by the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, who has had an unfairly bad press in recent days. It is now up to all the members of the PLP to decide whether — at long last — they are going to unite around Brown and take the fight to the Tories.