Could this week's "mini silly season" of Labour leadership stories turn into a full-blown crisis for Gordon Brown? Absolutely. Here's today's Journal column.
And so it begins again. From the high watermark of Brown Bounce II before Christmas, when it looked certain that Gordon Brown would lead the Labour Party into the next General Election, the Prime Minister is once again beset by rumours of his political demise.
Okay, so it’s moreorless exactly what I said would happen at the start of the year, but to be perfectly honest with you, it wasn’t rocket science.
Once the recession really started kicking in, it was never likely that the Prime Minister on whose watch it occurred would somehow manage to escape the blame for the whole crisis.
It was even less likely when that Prime Minister is Mr Brown, the man who claimed to have abolished boom and bust and to have presided over an economic miracle during his 11 long years as the self-styled Guardian of the People’s Money.
Mr Brown’s default response to the downturn thus far has been to blame it on global economic forces way beyond his or any of his ministers’ control.
For a while, the public seemed prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt on that. But over recent weeks, the excuse has become increasingly threadbare as the failure of the government’s system of financial regulation has become more and more apparent.
Last week it was revealed that former HBOS executive Sir James Crosby, who went on to become deputy head of the financial services authority and a key Brown adviser, had sacked a whistleblower who had tried to warn the bank about excessive risk-taking.
While it did not constitute a “smoking gun” linking Mr Brown directly to the collapse of the bank, it added to a growing public feeling that he was part of the problem – and hence cannot be part of the solution.
When the former bosses of HBOS and other leading bankers appeared before the Treasury Select Committee ten days ago, they practically fell over themselves to apologise for effectively causing the banking crisis.
But there has, of course, been no such apology from Mr Brown, and nor is there likely to be.
As Shadow Chancellor George Osborne put it with lethal precision this week, the Prime Minister “is still living in his Walter Mitty world where his system of banking regulation didn't fail, where boom-and-bust had been abolished and where Britain is best placed to withstand the recession.”
It may be Punch and Judy politics, but it’s also a charge that is increasingly resonating with the voters.
The politics of the situation are being driven, as ever, by the polls, with the Tory lead once more stretching towards the 20-point mark.
It is important to remember that even at the height of Brown Bounce II, the polls never had Labour in front, but the pre-Christmas deficit of around 5-6pc was of such a magnitude as can often be clawed back during an election campaign.
It gave the party hope that they could at least get to the starting-line in 2010 with a fighting chance of victory, but as the Tory lead has grown over recent weeks that hope has turned steadily to despair.
As I wrote three weeks back, it was only a matter of time in those circumstances before the plotting to replace Mr Brown began again, and sure enough, this week it has.
At the start of the week, the main beneficiary of this renewed speculation around Mr Brown’s future appeared to be the Health Secretary, Alan Johnson.
"The Prime Minister's mistakes are catching up with him. Only Johnson can hold back the Tories,” cried John Rentoul, in the Independent
The Guardian’s Jackie Ashley wrote: "If Brown stepped aside and was replaced by, say, Alan Johnson, then Labour might do better…..the one quality Johnson does have is authenticity - and that is what is needed right now.”
And the Telegraph’s Matthew d’Ancona weighed in from the Tory perspective with: "Alan Johnson is the figure who bothers the Cameroons most."
Such a remarkable degree of unanimity from the commentariat suggested some kind of spinning operation on Mr Johnson’s behalf, but by the end of the week, other names had entered the frame.
Depending on which paper you read, deputy leader Harriet Harman and Children’s Secretary Ed Balls were either forming a leadership “dream ticket” or alternatively locked in a deadly briefing war against eachother.
The Balls camp was said to have fingered Ms Harman over a suggestion – floated in Ms Ashley’s column – that Mr Brown could be offered some grand international post to enable him to quit the UK stage with dignity.
Meanwhile Mrs Balls – Treasury minister Yvette Cooper – was named by London’s Evening Standard as a potential “Stop Harriet” candidate, although her husband’s response to this idea went sadly unreported.
Is this all just froth of the kind the national political media excel in? Well, up to a point.
But take it from me as someone who has been there, Westminster journalists don’t simply sit there making this sort of stuff up. There is always some grain of truth, however small, in what they are writing.
What I suspect is happening at the moment is that minsters are becoming increasingly indiscreet about what they say to journalists, and that some of that is finding its way into the news pages.
What that shows in turn is that the Prime Minister’s authority is steadily collapsing as Labour MPs indulge in ever more open speculation about what will happen when he goes.
Can the government go on like this? Not really, and certainly not for another 15 months up to a May 2010 election.
Mr Brown is in dire need of economic good news, but that currently seems very far away and, in any case, whenever good news of this nature occurs the government has a tendency to over-claim for it.
Until very recently, there was a settled will in the Labour Party that, for good or ill, the party was stuck with Mr Brown until the election, and that it had better knuckle down and make the best of it.
My instinct tells me this mood is changing, and that the party may be about to experience a spring awakening. Watch this space.