Thursday, November 09, 2006

Johnson wakes up and smells the coffee

Education Secretary Alan Johnson has now formally ruled himself out of contention for the Labour leadership and announced he is contesting only the deputy's post - not at the Press Gallery Lunch as speculated on The Daily but in an exclusive interview with the BBC. That will piss a few people off for a start.

I must confess to being surprised. I am after all on record as having said that Johnson would "do a Prescott" and stand for both posts, while making the deputy leadership his main target. I wasn't the only one who thought this though....

What really did for him I think was his poorly received speech at the Labour Conference. He must have realised at that point that he didn't really have the support in the party to mount a meaningful challenge.

His withdrawal and declaration of support for Gordon Brown could have one of two effects. It could demonstrate that the momentum behind Brown is now such that he is unstoppable, or alternatively it could concentrate minds in the "Anyone But Gordon" camp to the effect that either (but not both) of John Hutton or Alan Milburn now emerge as serious contenders.

My assessment of the situation is that, with more than half the Cabinet on his side and the opposition to him fragmenting, Brown is looking pretty unbeatable, but politics abhors a vacuum and if at any point Gordon is seen as in any way vulnerable, someone somewhere will step into it. Even a very reluctant David Miliband might be persuaded if the alternative is a Labour election defeat.

A few weeks back, I produced this breakdown of where the various Cabinet members stand on the issue, and I think it's now time for an update.

Cabinet members explicitly and publicly backing Gordon Brown for the leadership

John Prescott
Margaret Beckett
Peter Hain
David Miliband
Hilary Benn
Alan Johnson

Cabinet members who have not expressed a public preference but who are known allies of Mr Brown

Jack Straw
Alistair Darling
Douglas Alexander
Des Browne
Ruth Kelly
Stephen Timms

Cabinet members who are currently remaining neutral or who have expressed no known public or private preference

Tony Blair
Patricia Hewitt
Hilary Armstrong
Jacqui Smith
Valerie Amos

Cabinet members who, while not allies of Mr Brown, have signalled that they will not run against him for the leadership

John Reid
Hazel Blears

Cabinet members who have privately expressed doubts about Mr Brown and who could reliably be expected to support "Anyone but Gordon" - if such a candidate exists

John Hutton
Charles Falconer
Tessa Jowell

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politicalcorrespondent said...

Nick Robinson's interview was basically a follow up to the Press Gallery lunch, where he did make his intentions pretty clear by all accounts - and no, this isn't from any of our sources, it's from Tom Watson's blog and the press this morning.

I think our prediction was pretty much on the money, though I'll admit we did think it was a different journalist who would get the exclusive spin on his speech. As you say, going with the BBC may annoy others who would hope to make the running on Labour Party stories.

skipper said...

I agree Johson's speech was a bit of a 'David Davis' job but I think it only weakened him; what really did for him was the U turn on faith schools.