Gordon Brown’s last weapon in his armoury appears to be misfiring. A cabinet reshuffle is in motion, even before the voters deliver their verdict at the local and European elections. Alistair Darling looks mortally wounded. And now Jacqui Smith has made clear that she’ll be stepping down at the reshuffle, with impeccable timing that will infuriate Brown.
Why is this all bad? Firstly it adds to the narrative of a government in chaos. Brown’s authority looks so weak that he is unable to even manage his top three team.
Secondly condemning cabinet ministers to a slow political death is indecent. It upsets them, it enrages their supporters and it distresses Labour backbenchers and ministers. A disorderly reshuffle raises the risk of revolt.
Finally, the long reshuffle removes the positive momentum from making dramatic personnel changes. The story is about the death of the old guard rather than the rebirth of a government. And Brown will be forced into making some of the key decisions before the voters have even spoken.
These are dangerous times for Brown. There are no serious plots in motion. But his position is so weak it would take very little to tip the balance. Geoffrey Howe did for Margaret Thatcher with a speech. It might take just a few pointed words from Alistair Darling to have a similar effect. This has the potential to be a historic political week.