"Potentially the most promising “change candidate” is Darlington MP Alan Milburn, whose still-youthful appearance belies his five years’ Cabinet experience. More importantly, he alone among Labour’s big-hitters has demonstrated an appetite for thinking outside the box. Whether he actually wants the job is unclear, but in my view, this could be his time."
Today, as I noted earlier, Mike Smithson on PoliticalBetting.com has claimed that Milburn is preparing to challenge Brown for the leadership if Thursday's Crewe and Nantwich by-election turns out as disastrously for Labour as everyone is now predicting.
I have no idea if the story is true, although as Iain Dale has already noted, Mike is not the sort to take a punt on such a tale. But as I have previously made clear, in the event of a leadership vacancy, the former health secretary would in my view be an extremely strong candidate.
Like most on the centre-left who hoped that under Gordon the Labour Party would rediscover its lost moral compass, I have been extremely saddened by what has happened to his premiership over the past seven or eight months.
Granted, he has not played his cards well - although the critical strategic error was not cancelling the autumn election as most allege, but allowing the speculation about an autumn election to get out of control in the first place.
Much of what has happened since then, however, has either been down to the incompetence of minor officials and party functionaries (discgate, David Abrahams) or, in the case of Northern Rock and the whole gamut of issues stemming from the global credit cruch, down to economic circumstances way beyond his control.
If he cannot now recover - more specifically, if the voters of Crewe and Nantwich deliver him a knockout blow - then Milburn is in my view the next best choice to lead the party into the next General Election.
In historical terms, it would be a bold move. Milburn would be the first premier since Churchill to take over mid-term while not occupying a major office of state (Eden, Home, and Callaghan all went from the Foreign Office to No 10, Macmillan, Major and Brown from the Treasury) and Churchill had of course previously been both Home Secretary and Chancellor.
Of the three current holders of the major offices, David Miliband has been much touted but is still less than fully-formed as a politician in my view, much as William Hague was when it fell to him to lead the Tories. He is still in the next-leader-but-one category.
The younger contenders - the likes of Purnell, Balls, Burnham and Ed Miliband - are even more lacking in experience and gravitas, while the older hands - Straw, Johnson, Harriet Harman - have simply been around the block too many times now.
At 49, Milburn is the right age for No 10 and having served in Blair's Cabinet, but not in Brown's, can combine top-level experience with relative freshness, enabling him to more credibly claim to be the "change the country needs" than Brown has been able to do.
It is true that he lacks a power base in the party, but then so do most of the other names that have been mentioned. There has never been a "Straw-ite" faction or a "Johnsonite" faction for instance, and even Miliband has allegedly failed to cultivate much of a following in the PLP.
It is also true that there have been various unsubstantiated rumours about his private life prior to his present relationship which, in the context of a leadership election, could result in a certain amount of mud being flung, as indeed was flung at Gordon in 1994.
Milburn would also have to overcome the suggestion of dilettanteism arising from his two Cabinet resignations. Some claimed it was a case of "can't stand the heat," but I genuinely believe he made a long-range calculation about his chances of succeeding Blair, correctly realised that Brown had it in the bag, and resigned to spend more time with his young sons at what was a critical age for them (they are older now.)
One thing I always believed though was that Milburn would return to frontline politics. Could this now be a case of "cometh the hour, cometh the man?"