So where do the events of the last 24 hours leave us? David Miliband has set out his stall in what despite his protestations is a barely-concealed leadership bid. Sam Coates and Francis Elliott on The Times reckon it will boil down to a contest between him and Harriet Harperson, which, with due respect to Sam and Francis, is no contest.
Meanwhile Alan Johnson is being speculated about as a running mate for Miliband rather than as a candidate in his own right and James Purnell is also reportedly backing the 43-year-old Foreign Secretary. Jack Straw is currently looking a rather poor third and other potential contenders such as John Denham are nowhere, although one must assume that on the broad left of the party, John McDonnell, Jon Cruddas and possibly even Ed Balls are also quietly making plans
I made clear a couple of months ago my own preference for Alan Milburn as the next leader on the grounds that, having been out of the Cabinet for three years, he alone could combine relative freshness with top-level experience. Speculation about a potential Milburn challenge at the time was running high, but his subsequent near-invisibility coupled with Miliband's latest move must mean he is now out of the running.
There was, in my view, an opportunity there for Milburn after Crewe and Nantwich and Henley to steal a march on the Cabinet contenders by coming out publicly against Brown. It would have made the potential Cabinet contenders look lily-livered by comparison and put Milburn at the vanguard of the growing Dump Brown faction among the party's grassroots. Sadly, it didn't happen, and it's now clear from Miliband's intervention and also from recent comments by Straw and Harman that, far from allowing a leftfield stalking horse like Milburn or Clarke to do their dirty work, the Cabinet contenders are preparing to move against the PM themselves.
I will give my more considered views on the main contenders at a later date, but if the field remains as it is, Miliband must be the man.I don't think he has all the qualities needed, but he does at least negate some of Brown's perceived drawbacks - for instance he is young, English, reasonably charming on a human level, and most importantly, was not responsible for every mistake in economic and social policy that has been made by New Labour since 1997.
I don't think he is an ideal candidate by any means - I would still prefer someone with wider experience such as Denham or even Johnson - but he would certainly be preferable to either Straw or Harperson in terms of articulating a compelling vision for a fourth Labour term and taking the fight to David Cameron.
The line that stood out for me in his Guardian article was the one about Cameron's project being about decontaminating the Tory Party rather than changing the country. For me, this message rings so true that the public will eventually be forced to concede it, once they can get beyond their current inability to see anything good in what Labour is saying.
I am reviving my poll on the potential contenders, minus Milburn this time, and this can be found in the sidebar and HERE