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Memo to Gordon Brown

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Robin Lustig | 18:13 UK time, Sunday, 27 July 2008

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:

"Prime Minister:

"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 ...


  • 1. At 7:01pm on 27 Jul 2008, threnodio wrote:

    And so elegantly phrased. If it were not for your personal assurance to the contrary, I would swear you had penned it yourself.

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  • 2. At 7:25pm on 27 Jul 2008, Barbazenzero wrote:

    The memo #3 is probably Brown's leastworst option, but is it Labour's?

    Straw could be more open about what went wrong and has some track record re electoral reform. He could go to the country in the winter offering to complete devolution and electoral reform, with bills to prove it passed by the HoC to show the LibDems he means business.

    He wouldn't win a majority, but he would have some hope of forming a coalition and much less chance of a meltdown.

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  • 3. At 7:27pm on 27 Jul 2008, power_to_the_ppl wrote:

    Very incisive. I think Brown, out of delusion, will go with Option 1. I doubt if any person or any number of people can persuade him that he's not the best man for the job, and that he can't turn the situation around. He's so incapable of assessing the public mood that the sensible choice, Option 3, must seem to him like just as much of a defeat as Option 2. (Someone on another blog mentioned that awful jacket he was wearing for his staged photo-op in Suffolk--- not directly relevant but it demonstrates quite clearly that he thinks people are fooled by so obviously calculated decisions, and let's not forget his choice of destination). The man's a danger to his party, but more importantly to his country. He's a bean-counter and shouldn't be in the top job. Prepare for a gruesome coup this autumn.

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  • 4. At 7:27pm on 27 Jul 2008, oldnat wrote:

    "Unless he reads this blog, of course"

    I had jokingly suggested on another blog, that politicians followed the blogs, to hear the opinions of us old codgers.

    I then discovered that the US parties actually do!

    I suspect, therefore, that you have been the victim of a backbench Labour plot to get this into your hands, knowing you would blog it. All your respondents would agree with it. Party research would indicate that Option 3 was the only possibility, and Brown would capitulate.

    This, therefore, the ultimate (in every sense) Labour spin.

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  • 5. At 7:34pm on 27 Jul 2008, Barbazenzero wrote:

    The following is much the same as a post I made yesterday on an NR thread. Still relevant to option 2?

    Could Brown be shoved aside by one of those staring at their own "Portillo" moment. What we need is a database of the NuLabour Politburo so that they can be ranked in order of likelihood of sharing Michael P's unenviable fate. These, surely, are the ones most likely to take the Brutus role in the impending tragicomdey.

    I have hunted a lot to find a useful data source, but perhaps in the wrong places. It would be easy to extract it from the database used for the BBC Election 2005 website. If anyone knows of a suitable data source, I'll do the analysis myself.

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  • 6. At 7:41pm on 27 Jul 2008, Barbazenzero wrote:

    Re #3 power_to_the_ppl
    I fear your analysis is correct and the later it's left the bloodier and more public the coup will be. Good news for Cameron and probably bad for democracy.

    Re #4 oldnat
    Perish the thought that MPs could be so careless. More likely prepared by a No.10 researcher floating it quietly to test the water.

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  • 7. At 8:04pm on 27 Jul 2008, threnodio wrote:

    #6 - Brownedov

    I have responded to your request elsewhere.

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  • 8. At 8:30pm on 27 Jul 2008, Barbazenzero wrote:

    Re #7 threnodio

    OK Thanks - seen it and responded

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  • 9. At 8:47pm on 27 Jul 2008, Barbazenzero wrote:

    Re #7 threnodio

    Digging around the Keele site, I found what I need at: Constituencies in order of turnout

    This can be pasted straight into XL to make a start on the analysis.

    I will post this on the NR thread too.

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  • 10. At 10:16pm on 27 Jul 2008, Barbazenzero wrote:

    Here is your "cut out and keep" Portillo List of the cabinet for the next general election in order of the turkeys closest to Christmas:

    Rank, Majority%, Incumbent, Turnout%, Constituency, Job
    1, 5.09%, Ruth Kelly, 63.56%, Bolton West, Secretary of State for Transport
    2, 6.74%, Jacqui Smith, 63.80%, Redditch, Home Secretary
    3, 16.49%, Alistair Darling, 64.99%, Edinburgh South West, Chancellor of the Exchequer
    4, 16.54%, John Hutton, 58.97%, Barrow & Furness, "Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform"
    5, 19.16%, Jack Straw, 57.50%, Blackburn, Secretary of State for Justice
    6, 19.61%, Des Browne, 62.16%, Kilmarnock & Loudoun, Secretary of State for Defence; and for Scotland
    7, 21.52%, John Denham, 53.81%, Southampton Itchen, "Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills"
    8, 23.64%, James Purnell, 54.18%, Stalybridge & Hyde, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
    9, 24.29%, Geoff Hoon, 57.35%, Ashfield, Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury and Chief Whip
    10, 26.24%, Shaun Woodward, 53.80%, St Helens South, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
    11, 26.73%, Ed Balls, 57.46%, Normanton, "Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families"
    12, 33.97%, Alan Johnson, 45.24%, Hull West & Hessle, Secretary of State for Health
    13, 34.95%, Douglas Alexander, 62.91%, Paisley & Renfrewshire South, Secretary of State for International Development
    14, 35.15%, Hazel Blears, 42.41%, Salford, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
    15, 40.08%, Ed Miliband, 51.15%, Doncaster North, Minister for the Cabinet Office; Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
    16, 40.66%, Hilary Benn, 45.79%, Leeds Central, "Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs"
    17, 40.76%, David Miliband, 50.91%, South Shields, Foreign Secretary
    18, 41.11%, Paul Murphy, 59.31%, Torfaen, Secretary of State for Wales
    19, 43.58%, Gordon Brown, 58.37%, Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath, Prime Minister
    20, 46.27%, Yvette Cooper , 53.25%, Pontefract & Castleford, Chief Secretary to the Treasury
    21, 46.51%, Harriet Harman, 50.79%, Camberwell & Peckham, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
    22, 47.34%, Andy Burnham, 50.35%, Leigh, "Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport"

    The above may look a mess but should paste into any spreadsheet program as CSV

    Names and job info: Labour's Full list of Cabinet members as of 24 January 2008
    Constituency majorities & turnouts: Keele Uni's Constituencies in order of turnout

    With thanks to threnodio
    Posted on both the NR and RL blogs
    Please post any errors spotted

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  • 11. At 10:25pm on 27 Jul 2008, oldnat wrote:

    #10 Brownedov and threnedio


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  • 12. At 10:42pm on 27 Jul 2008, Barbazenzero wrote:

    I thought it best to publish the "Portillo" list to give others a chance to see it first before commenting on it myself.

    Come the general election, remember that the swing needed to unseat them will be exactly half their majority %. So Brown's majority of 43.58% will disappear with a 21.79% swing - a tad less than Mason needed in Glasgow East.

    I confess to being saddened that Little Miss Sunshine is 14th on the list but cheered by Ruth Kelly and Jacqui Smith heading it.

    Looking at the next group who could be unseated on an 8% to 12% swing, the obvious heavyweights who might consider passing the poisoned chalice are Hutton, Straw and Denham in that order, with Straw still my favourite to "take the plunge".

    Somehow, I can't see Darling having the courage, while neither Browne nor Purnell have the experience to win should they stand.

    The others from Hoon on down may feel fairly safe with a swing over 12% needed to remove them but I wonder how they will feel after a summer of even worse poll results.

    A swing of Glasgow East proportion would leave just Yvette Cooper, Harriet Harman and Andy Burnham to form the new Labour Shadow Cabinet.

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  • 13. At 10:55pm on 27 Jul 2008, power_to_the_ppl wrote:

    VERY pleased to see Purnell so high up. Stalybridge and Hyde was once a Labour fortress. I'm so happy I need to go for a wee!

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  • 14. At 11:54pm on 27 Jul 2008, dennisjunior1 wrote:


    you must have been dreaming that night for the story....

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  • 15. At 11:29am on 29 Jul 2008, threnodio wrote:

    May I borrow your blog for a moment?

    I notice that all content of the latest thread in Nick Robinson's blog have vanished over-night. Strangely enough, several posters were engaged in talking about freedom of expression at the time.

    Sinister or technical? Well let's see if it is restored.

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  • 16. At 2:12pm on 29 Jul 2008, Toryblogger wrote:

    Brownedov #10,

    Thanks for this - really interesting to see the magnitude of disaster impending. (Though Gordon Brown's interpretation of impending is clutching at the letterbox of #10 until he is forced to let go).

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  • 17. At 01:12am on 30 Jul 2008, Barbazenzero wrote:

    Re #16 Toryblogger

    There's a mean streak in me that hope's he stays on just long enough to get the order of the boot at his count in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath, but for the country it would clearer be better for him to stand down tomorrow and give someone else a chance to pick up a few of the pieces.

    I don't particular like Labour old or new but especially not new. A Centre-Left party already exists in Scotalnd with the SNP but England and Wales both need one for balance.

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  • 18. At 9:40pm on 30 Jul 2008, CarrotsneedaQUANGO2 wrote:

    Option 3 for me please.

    Nothing short of a major quake will allow labour to win the next election.

    I for one am fed up of massive landslides, so I pray the labour party recover somewhat from their current position.

    Thanks Brownedove for recommending.
    Please dont tell Charles zzzEnn H.

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  • 19. At 08:48am on 31 Jul 2008, Barbazenzero wrote:

    Re #18 CarrotsneedaQUANGO2

    My virtual lips will br virtually sealed.

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  • 20. At 3:23pm on 05 Aug 2008, evenmorelovely wrote:

    Dear Mr.Lustig: whatever happened to impartiality???
    Next stop -Talk Radio.
    Please stick to reading the news; it's not complicated!

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  • 21. At 01:54am on 05 Oct 2008, Barbazenzero wrote:

    PS to my #10

    Following Ms Kelly's abdication from pole position and "Duff" Gordon's reshuffle, my cut-out-and-keep "Portillo" list is now outdated and so, as a public service, here is a revision including the "other cabinet attendees":

    1,3.37%,Jacqui Smith,Con,Redditch
    2,4.66%,Tony McNulty,Con,Harrow East
    3,6.52%,Margaret Beckett,LD,Derby South
    4,7.02%,Jim Murphy,Con,Renfrewshire East
    5,8.25%,Alistair Darling,Con,Edinburgh South West
    6,8.27%,John Hutton,Con,Barrow & Furness
    7,9.58%,Jack Straw,Con,Blackburn
    8,9.59%,Liam Byrne,LD,Birmingham Hodge Hill
    9,10.76%,John Denham,Con,Southampton Itchen
    10,11.82%,James Purnell,Con,Stalybridge & Hyde
    11,11.94%,Nick Brown,LD,Newcastle East & Wallsend
    12,12.15%,Geoff Hoon,Con,Ashfield
    13,13.12%,Shaun Woodward,LD,St Helens South
    14,13.37%,Ed Balls,Con,Normanton
    15,16.99%,Alan Johnson,LD,Hull West & Hessle
    16,17.48%,Douglas Alexander,LD,Paisley & Renfrewshire South
    17,17.58%,Hazel Blears,LD,Salford
    18,20.04%,Ed Miliband,Con,Doncaster North
    19,20.33%,Hilary Benn,LD,Leeds Central
    20,20.38%,David Miliband,LD,South Shields
    21,20.56%,Paul Murphy,Con,Torfaen
    22,21.79%,Gordon Brown,SNP,Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath
    23,23.14%,Yvette Cooper ,Con,Pontefract & Castleford
    24,23.26%,Harriet Harman,LD,Camberwell & Peckham
    25,23.67%,Andy Burnham,Con,Leigh

    The list may look a mess but should copy and paste into any spreadsheet program as CSV. The column headed 2nd shows the party of the runner-up in 2005, who need the stated Swing to prevail next time.

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  • 22. At 10:52pm on 09 Jul 2009, Barbazenzero wrote:

    PS to my #21
    Following the recent re-shuffle, here is the latest revision to the cut-out-and-keep "Portillo" list, including the "other cabinet attendees":

    Rank, Swing%, Incumbent, 2nd, Constituency, Job
    1, 1.87%, Jim Knight, Con, Dorset South, MoS for Employment
    2, 6.96%, Bob Ainsworth, Con, Coventry North East, SoS for Defence
    3, 7.02%, Jim Murphy, Con, Renfrewshire East, SoS for Scotland
    4, 8.25%, Alistair Darling, Con, Edinburgh South West, Chancellor
    5, 9.58%, Jack Straw, Con, Blackburn, Lord Chancellor
    6, 9.59%, Liam Byrne, LD, Birmingham Hodge Hill, Chief Sec. to the Treasury
    7, 10.49%, Tessa Jowell, LD, Dulwich & West Norwood, Paymaster General
    8, 10.76%, John Denham, Con, Southampton Itchen, SoS for Communities
    9, 11.94%, Nick Brown, LD, Newcastle East & Wallsend, Chief Whip
    10, 13.12%, Shaun Woodward, LD, St Helens South, SoS for Northern Ireland
    11, 13.37%, Ed Balls, Con, Normanton, SoS for Children
    12, 16.99%, Alan Johnson, LD, Hull West & Hessle, Home Secretary
    13, 17.48%, Douglas Alexander, LD, Paisley & Renfrewshire South, SoS for Int.Dev.
    14, 17.75%, Peter Hain, PC, Neath, SoS for Wales
    15, 18.58%, Pat McFadden, Con, Wolverhampton South East, MoS for DBI&S
    16, 19.12%, Ben Bradshaw, Con, Exeter, SoS for Culture
    17, 20.04%, Ed Miliband, Con, Doncaster North, SoS for Energy
    18, 20.33%, Hilary Benn, LD, Leeds Central, SoS for Environment
    19, 20.38%, David Miliband, LD, South Shields, Foreign Secretary
    20, 21.15%, John Healey, Con, Wentworth, MoS for Housing
    21, 21.79%, Gordon Brown, SNP, Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath, PM
    22, 23.14%, Yvette Cooper , Con, Pontefract & Castleford, SoS for Work & Pensions
    23, 23.26%, Harriet Harman, LD, Camberwell & Peckham, Lord Privy Seal
    24, 23.67%, Andy Burnham, Con, Leigh, SoS for Health

    It's one shorter than last time because it only includes those in the HoC and not the Lords but, as before, it should copy and paste into any spreadsheet program as CSV. The column headed 2nd shows the party of the runner-up in 2005, who need the stated Swing to prevail next time.

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