Alex wrote at midnight (still no pay rise alas) that financial self-interest could prevent some Labour MPs joining the electronic revolt. Many MPs are also saying (at least publically) that a mutiny would be suicidal. There is definitely some resentment on the left of the party against the Blairite ministers who have resigned. Senior ministers such as Lord Mandelson are trying to keep a lid on things.
That said, we simply don’t know at this point how many people will sign the petition.
I’m told that Charles Clarke has gathered 30-odd names. And that Fiona McTaggart can vouch for more than 40 (who knows if these are the same MPs?). Names of other supposed rebels to have emerged in recent hours include Paul Farrelly, Stephen Byers, Alan Milburn (currently in the Middle East), Graham Allen, Graham Stringer, Joan Ryan, Siobhan McDonagh and Janet Anderson. They are thought to have sympathy from the likes of Frank Field.
In other words, a similar bunch to those who challenged the prime minister last autumn (could this be one reason for remaining anonymous?)
Deliberately they are avoiding having meetings in the same room. Instead this is a loose coalition organised through phone calls and emails. The Guardian has an exclusive on the mechanics of the rebellion although it doesn’t name names.
The worst case scenario for the rebels would seem to be this. They get 50 to 60 names (including the 30-odd backbenchers who have a propensity to vote against the whips). This would be enough for their names to be published. But then they run out of steam just as Brown rejigs the government.
One source told me this morning that the rebels want to avoid going live at the same time as the reshuffle. That could put off the email petition until Monday. Ultimately they still hope that a cabinet minister will do the knife work on their behalf. Which is a big if.
A petition of 50 or 60 names would not necessarily be enough to dislodge Brown yet it would be big enough to undermine the prime minister, Labour and the government in the public eye. This is a knife-edge exercise in brinksmanship.
The rebels are still hoping that Caroline Flint (a friend of Blears, Smith et al) will resign as Europe minister to maintain the pressure on Gordon Brown.
This may not transpire if she is offered a plum job in the reshuffle. They are also optimistic that Blears will break her relative silence and criticise Brown tonight or tomorrow. Unfortunately the Salford MP has let it be known that she will maintain a “dignified silence” until after the election results and reshuffle.
“We can’t believe she flounced out without saying anything politically damaging to Brown,” says one plotter.
John Redwood is unimpressed: “Labour is not good at coups”, says the Tory MP .
I’m told that Scottish MPs are rallying around the prime minister and having some very “harsh” discussions with the rebels. With the exception of John Reid, who has apparently asked the PM to think very hard about his future.