Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Gardening leave

Gordon Brown managed to un-glue himself from an anti-aviation protester to host a reception for Lobby journalists in Downing Street last night.

The Prime Minister let us have the run of the No 10 garden, which seemed in good shape despite having hosted Labour backbenchers 24 hours earlier.

Mr Brown didn't circulate much among his guests but he seemed more relaxed than most politicians would be after the sort of year he's had.

He gave a short, well-judged speech to mark the departure of Lobby veteran Colin Brown (no relation) of The Independent. Perhaps he can "do human" after all.

Most Labour MPs I've spoken to are rather pleased that the summer recess has arrived. They argue that governments often do better when Parliament's not sitting.

But there's still a resigned despair among many backbenchers, who lack confidence in the PM to turn the polls around.

Mr Brown is fortunate that there is no consensus on any successor. Some backbenchers want David Miliband, others Alan Johnson, some Jack Straw as a caretaker.

One Minister told me that those who wanted Mr Brown out were the same who agitated for Tony Blair's removal. (Not strictly accurate, perhaps, as many of those involved in the September 2006 "coup" were later rewarded with jobs in the Brown Government).

Most Labour MPs and journalists who've spent time in Glasgow think Labour will hold its seat in tomorrow's by-election there. [they were wrong]

Even if they lose, the consensus seems to be that Mr Brown is safe for the summer but MPs could get jittery if the polls don't improve for Labour by September and the conference season.

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