Memo to Gordon Brown
As I travel to work by Tube nearly every day, it was inevitable that sooner or later I would find a "secret" document that someone shouldn't have left behind on the train. This one, which was in a plain envelope marked "Confidential: PM's eyes only", is worth sharing with you. (Warning: I may have dreamt it, but I'll share it with you anyway.)
Here's what it said:
"You asked for my honest appraisal of where you stand after Glasgow East, and for my thoughts on possible courses of action. I have no wish to depress you while you are on holiday with the family, but I do think I need to spell it out as I see it.
"First, is there any way you can recover from where you are now? I am sorry to say I think the answer is No. I think a combination of factors - 11 years in office, the end of a decade of economic growth, and your own difficulties connecting with the public mood - make the current situation irretrievable.
"If I am right, you have only three available options. First, you could hang on till you have to call an election, ie May 2010. Second, you could resign. Third, you could call an election this autumn.
"The disadvantage of Option 1 is that you will inevitably be seen as a lame duck, Major-type PM, in office, to coin a phrase, but not in power. There will be constant chatter in the press about leadership challenges, and it will become all but impossible to enact any legislation without seeing off endless backbench rebellions. The history books, I fear, will call you 'the least successful Labour Prime Minister ever, who hung on to office till the bitter end and took his party down to a crushing defeat.'
"The disadvantage of Option 2 is that it will look as if you have buckled under pressure, and whoever takes over from you - almost certainly Jack Straw - will be able to do no more than caretake until spring 2010, when he will be defeated and then resign. It is just possible that under Straw, the Labour defeat will be less catastrophic than under your leadership, but not by much.
"Which brings me to Option 3. This is the course of action that I favour: I suggest that before Parliament resumes, and just before the Conservative party conference, you tell the nation that you have come to the conclusion that it is your duty to clear the air and give voters a chance to decide which party they want to lead them out of economic crisis. You tell them honestly that you regret not having gone to the country a year ago, you admit that you may well lose, but you insist that you have a duty to put the interests of the country before your own or your party's.
"The likelihood is that Labour will lose anyway. But my estimate is that the losses will not be as heavy as they would be in a year or 18 months' time - and the verdict of history will be much kinder. 'He went to the country early, in the midst of an economic crisis, knowing that defeat was likely. After a decade as one of the country's most successful Chancellors ever, he put his job at PM on the line for the good of his party.' Something like that, anyway ...
"I'll be happy to go into this in more detail if you wish, but I thought you'd like a chance to mull it over while you're in Southwold."
The memo was unsigned, and as I say, I found it on the Tube (or I dreamt I did). Which means that Gordon Brown won't have seen it yet. Unless he reads this blog, of course ...