Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sinkable Gordon Brown?

Britain will hold a general election for its House of Commons this spring. (I wrote here about the process for setting the date for a general election, and here about the timing of this election.)

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, leader of the Labor Party, has seemed like a lame duck, ever since his on-again-off-again (and, eventually, off) plan to hold an early "snap" general election, shortly after he succeeded Tony Blair, in 2007.

Brown's unpopularity contributed to landslide defeats for his party in elections for local government, and the European Parliament. After Labor received what George W. Bush might have called a "thumpin'" in such elections last year, some speculated that Brown's party would oust him, perhaps in favor of Foreign Secretary David Miliband. When Brown barely survived that incident, it seemed as though he would remain as leader through the 2010 election. Then, Brown would be replaced after (unless there's a huge surprise) Labor loses that election.

But now, there is renewed plotting to get rid of Brown before the election. Some prominent Labor Members of Parliament (MPs) have proposed a secret ballot among Labor MPs on the question of whether Brown should continue as their leader.

Is it too late to make a change? The expected general election date, May 6, is only four months away, and the final June deadline is five months away.

The Conservative Party's 1990 ouster of Margaret Thatcher took place a year and a half before the next general election.

Anthony Eden successfully led the Tories into the 1955 general election, less than two months after becoming leader and prime minister. But that was not a leadership change that was forced on an unpopular prime minister. Instead it was the result of the long-awaited retirement of the 80-year-old Winston Churchill.

The consensus seems to be that, if current Cabinet members start to desert Brown, that could create a snowball effect that could doom the prime minister. Thatcher faced a similar snowball in 1990.

UPDATE: Now, on the day after those events, it looks like Brown has survived again. The coup plotters are former Cabinet members who failed to get anyone who is currently serving in the Cabinet to join in their cause.

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