Could my December 2008 speculation come about?
Back in December 2008 I put forward what I described as a “plan for Clegg” in the event that the Tories ended up with many more votes at the general election but behind Labour on seats. Such an outcome is highly possible if the gap between the parties gets down to five or six percent.
On the one hand Clegg would find it hard with his own MPs and activists to deal with the “vote winners” but their flag-ship policy on “fair votes” would put a big constraint on dealing with Brown. My thought then was they they could support Labour but demand Brown’s scalp in return.
Well according to Jackie Ashley’s Guardian column this morning my fantasy scenario is being discussed between the two parties. She writes:-
“…So Labour ministers are talking of a scenario in which, if no party won the election, Brown might stand down quickly. He would then be replaced by a more Lib-friendly leader..”
Now who could that “Lib-friendly leader” be? Ashley doesn’t name a name but I will hazard a guess. For looking at the likely contenders it’s hard to see Clegg being comfortable with Johnson, the Milibands, Harman, Straw or Balls, assuming he holds on in Morley and Outwood.
In my judgement, and this is not based on any information, the one name that sticks out is James Purnell – the man who quit his cabinet post just after the polls closed in the local and EU elections on June 4th 2008. He’s of the same generation as Clegg, looks set to retain his Stalybridge seat and doesn’t quite have the baggage as the others.
Could Labour have a Purnell leadership forced on it? Well in the frenzied atmosphere of an inconclusive election outcome the party’s NEC might have no alternative. Force Brown out and put Purnell in or have the Tories returning to power. It’s a no-brainer.
Is it worth a punt on Purnell? The problem is that all this requires a hung parliament and the polls need to move a fair bit before we are in that territory.