The Norwich North by-election result has been delivered: a coup de vote which in any normal political circumstances would have a frenzied party sprinting to redress the mistakes it made and listen harder to the electorate than ever before. Not this time.
Instead, Labour looks stunned by the starkness of the defeat. Disbelieving, zombified, repeating mantras with a little more bitterness than before. Ben Bradshaw chucked a couple of bad full tosses of nasty, petty tantrum in David Cameron’s general direction. Harriet Harman was aggressively stupid in her allegation of arrogance against the Conservatives. She is missing the point: Conservatives are not being arrogant, they’re being more strident about the reality of British politics: people want Labour gone, and they are signalling the nation is ready to be led by David Cameron’s shiny new party.
A swing of 16%, large enough if repeated in a General Election to destroy the Labour Party and knock out a number of its key heads, should have given the party pause to think, time to evaluate, and time to make a tough decision by the time of their party conference. The shocking reality is, of course, that they won’t think at all.
It’s a punch-drunk, saturated, demoralised and bitter party Gordon Brown leads, who either hate him too viscerally to be followed by the mainstream in their party or love him too much to tell him the bunker is surrounded. It’s volatile and uncontrollable. It’s utterly compelling.
Conservative strategy and planning has worked beautifully in Norwich North, and people deserve to be congratulated on their victory. To learn from the things that were well received, they should be holding focus groups now until the end of next month, to get an idea of what worked and what flopped with the electorate. Eric Pickles should be pleased with the result. Keep him off Question Time and in the war-room.
One of two things will now happen: either Gordon Brown will resign in order to protect the party he loves, or he will doggedly fight on, to an inspirational and calamitous collapse for his friends, colleagues and comrades. The choice is his to make, because he is strong enough to fight off a rebellion, and he is well enough connected to destroy any troublemakers within his party. Either way, I suspect Labour will lose the next election, and that it will be a tough, nasty, close fought thing. I suspect that with Gordon Brown at the helm as the incumbent hopeful of a new term, he will cause the party to collapse, implode and fail epically at the election.
I suspect that, if Gordon Brown was to stand down and force an orderly transfer of power, Labour will lose and Conservatives will secure a bare, bare majority. Libdems are melting horribly, but could possibly form a coalition with Labour if an economic recovery comes deus ex machina.
This summer is critical. Conservatives must carve a beautiful and tough election campaign to be run any time between September and May. They must create a manifesto responsive to the week that it’s published, that captures the public imagination and lays the foundations for extreme comfort for Labour voters. They must feel confident that their party is too corrupted to be saved, and that the Conservatives are trustworthy enough under Cameron not to come to the aid of Brown or his successor.
For Brown, the summer is immensely dangerous. During the Commons session, one can keep an eye on colleagues, find out who they’re taking lunch with, who they’re meeting in their offices. But if two MPs were to bump into one another in a taverna over tapenade and feta, or to accidentally share a sangria bowl, and thought up a better way to run the country… Or if a few of them happened to pick up pay and go phones in another country that GCHQ found themselves unable to trace…
Without the James Bond stuff, this summer could see a plot simply happen, to remove Brown at his Conference and show a unity and purpose most of us assume has evaporated from the Labour party sans Blair. I hope for the sake of the nation that Brown is ousted soon, and that someone with the capacity to command the Civil Service is put in his place. If not, then we can, entirely without complacency, move towards the election, preparing for government, and take each vote as it comes.