Labour have been, as was widely predicted, annhilated in Thursday’s local elections. Not only do they not control any county council in England – not a single, solitary outpost of hope – but their projected share of the national vote, at just 23%, is a record low. Meanwhile, whilst the Conservatives didn’t quite attain the 40% share they might have hoped for, they’ve not only taken Labour’s remaining strongholds, but also seriously challenged the Liberal Democrats in theirs. On the matter of their respective shares of the national vote, it would be fair to point out that all three major parties will have had a few percentage points skimmed off the top and shared out across the minor parties and the independents, because of public anger over recent expenses scandals to have hit them all. Had that not have been the case, Labour may not have suffered their record low (not that it would have been much consolation to them), and the Conservatives may well have broken the 40% mark.
With the polls showing him to be an electoral liabilty, and a recent spate of ministerial resignations and rumbling dissent amongst his backbenchers calling his future (or lack thereof) into question, Gordon Brown really needed to reassert whatever’s left of his authority with a Cabinet reshuffle. So – has he?
The Cabinet hasn’t been so much reshuffled as been papered over to try and cover its deepening cracks. Many of the key positions remain held by the same people – not because Gordon Brown necessarily wants them to be there, but because they have simply refused be moved. If yesterday’s poll results reflect how Brown’s authority has been washed away amongst the country, then his reshuffle underlines just how diminished it is amongst those he wants to help him run it. And then there’s Peter Mandelson. Twice forced out of Cabinet for corruption, unelected, and now back at the heart of Government, effectively Brown’s Deputy in all but name. If this doesn’t highlight the absurdity of Brown’s claims to being the most credible person to reform Parliament and restore public trust in our democracy, then I simply do not know what would.
Admittedly, Brown’s position could have been even weaker today, were it not for Alan Johnson and David Milliband – the former widely seen as a likely contender for the job Brown has made a poisoned chalice, the latter having contemplated felling him mere months ago – showing their support. For now, the Cabinet may have rallied around their stricken PM, but are they just earning enough loyalty points to trade in for an even sharper set of kitchen knives later?