My take on seven days of Labour crisis
Here's my take on Labour's election disaster and a balance sheet of a tumultuous crisis, which for now seems to have abated. It is based on many conversations with ministerial aides, backbench MPs and trade union officials over the past week.
1) All last week Labour and trade union people were discussing how an Alan Johnson premiership could a) do a Michael Howard and lessen the impact of the coming election defeat and b) unify the party until it limps into opposition, where the ideological debate would start in earnest.
2) Once the coup failed and a proxy war broke out between Blairites and Brownites, the rationale for "AJ" as the plotters call Alan Johnson, fell apart. The centre left - which it is worth remembering "won" the first round of the 2007 deputy leadership contest - saw no point in joining an uprising that was going to put Charles Clarke, Alan Milburn etc into a position of greater power. See Labour blogger Hopi Sen for more.
3) The AJ project always intended to allow Labour to go on doing what it is already committed to, only "better" and more sympathetically, without some of the perceived dysfunction of the Brown administration. It would also allow greater closure on the issues of Iraq and the misregulation of the banking system. The European parliament election result throws into question whether that is still possible.
4) The majority of those who voted have voted for parties that reject the Lisbon Treaty, reject Eurofederalism and want a much tougher policy on immigration. These are issues that the inner Labour factional struggle does not seem even to engage with: Labour's policy document, "Winning the Fight For Britain's Future" - currently being honed by Ed Miliband into an election manifesto - barely acknowledges the anger and disenchantment shown last Thursday.
5) Labour knew in advance how big the BNP threat was but had no effective strategy to counter it. I spent the Summer of 2007 touring Britain on the trail of Gordon Brown and constantly reported on the following: many in Labour's core constituency of white, English, low-paid manual workers believe the party has deserted them; that migration - above all legal migration from Eastern Europe - has undercut their wages and placed strains on their services. And they feel threatened about their identity.
Last year, when I followed David Cameron to Nuneaton, where the Conservatives won the council, I met former miners who had not voted "because the BNP weren't standing". In Thurrock I heard tales of hundreds of people in council elections writing in "BNP" where the party was not standing. Labour was, in short, fully appraised of the threat from the BNP. The party's strategists now have to explain how and why they failed to deal with it.
6) Today there is dismay in Labour circles because all the options open to them seem futile. We are hearing that Brown gave a "moving", "heartfelt" etc speech at the PLP, promising to change, listen etc. This on its own cannot have been enough to produce such a flood of support (or postponement of assassination). So we have to assume there have been concrete policy changes promised in the background.
7) Weirdly, amid it all, it is beginning to look like by default, both in makeup and possibly now in policy the government has moved slightly "left" - or a version of left. First there is the "lines to take" that ministers have been coming out with: "the Conservatives will cut public services" ("we, by inferrence, will not"). This is one big expectation to be stoking up given the state of the public finances.
Second there is the makeup of the refuseniks. What unites Purnell, Clarke, Milburn, Blears et al is that they were "small-state Blairites". Thinking back to Charles Clarke's speech in 2007 about the crossroads facing Labour: to go further down a "Fabian" - ie statist - line, or towards a social programme based on charity and social entrepreneurs... I think it's this latter position that defines the ministerial refuseniks.
That programme - "communitarian Blairism", you could call it, or Third Way 2.0 - is now hardly represented at all in Cabinet. The remaining Blairites have two general characteristics: a) they are statists b) they have a strong relationship with the Labour movement and its history. Indeed maybe we're seeing the emergence of "Mandelsonism".
8) All this, plus the election result, dictates the line of march a "reformed" Brown government will be pushed to take. If you take John McDonnell and Jon Cruddas' respective wish lists, cancelling Post Office privatisation seems a done deal; cancelling Trident will be the big one to swallow - although I know from experience that Brown's commitment to it was a sold as a tactic designed to gain Blair's agreement to stand down.
(The one and only time Damian McBride ever phoned me out of the blue was to tell me "Gordon has committed to Trident". I'd been asking him about water privatisation at the time.) We'll see.
Building a mass of new public housing? Failure to commit was the sticking point which led Cruddas to turn down a ministerial position last year. Then there is subsidy for short time working: this seems to be popping up in the wish list of a lot of Brown's new found left supporters so watch out for it. Since there is half a billion allocated to support for industry, and 220,000 people on short time working, the current budget would seem to cover
a one-off payment of roughly £2 each - excuse the bad maths: it's £2,000, as commenter inoncom points out below.
9) The PLP left and centre left have put Brown "on probation until the Autumn". Meanwhile the "radical centre" has detached itself from cabinet and is in a far more volatile mood. The PLP meeting seals the end of the period where it was possible that the "disparate" rebels - Barry Sheerman et al - could mount any kind of effective coup.
I understand the last remnant of a Johnson "machine" was definitively stood down this afternoon. So there will now be a phoney war within the Labour party until the conference. Highly unclear whether that will do anything to reconnect them to the masses of voters who stayed away, let alone endear them to last night's electoral majority who want out of Lisbon. Since the "centre right" in Britain is now so clearly defined around these issues, the whole point of the Blairite project - reaching out across the traditional divide - gets a lot harder.
10) That's my provisional analysis. It could all change quickly. The next major gambit or decision Gordon Brown makes will be seen as a test of the commitments he made tonight. But first we have to find out what they are.