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Nelson's column

IT may still be spring, but summer madness has already gripped Labour. Everyone wants change. Nobody can agree what sort.
You can understand their problem. Gordo’s authority has collapsed so much that he’s now openly laughed at in the Commons. Labour activists are campaigning for next month’s Euro elections, working out how they can airbrush him out of pamphlets.
Get rid of Brown, they say, and deprive the Tories of their No1 weapon. But ask how, and a long silence follows. When Tories plot, it’s a fast-moving drama with gore guaranteed. But with Labour, it’s more like a political panto.
The curtain rose on Friday when Harriet Harman made an appeal for ‘unity’, which in politician-speak means ‘I’m game’.
If Hatty Harman is the answer, you might ask, what’s the question? “How do you condemn Labour to opposition for a decade?”
Her appeal for unity is going well in this regard at least. Every Labour MP I speak to says: “If she wins, I’m resigning”.
There are plenty of other candidates. Bookmakers have a long list: Ed Balls at 20-1, Jack Straw at 5-1, Yvette Cooper at 25-1.
And who knows? Labour’s weird voting system (counting second preferences) means everyone gets what no one really wants.
But all of this skips a rather crucial point. There is no vacancy at 10 Downing St. And nor will there be, unless Gordo quits. Say what you want about the old rogue, but he’s the most resilient survivor in Westminster. He just keeps bouncing back.
He is proving what Churchill once said. Politics isn’t like war, because in war you can die only once. In politics, many times.
Gordo has ‘died’ more times than Captain Scarlet. He suffered two huge defeats last week, and yet bounced back on Friday.
There he was in an NHS hospital talking about the Mexican swine lurgy, acting all ‘leader-in-a-crisis’ as if nothing happened.
We’ll all be getting sent leaflets next week. Presumably with lectures about how Labour is ‘for the many and not the flu’. This won’t stop Labour being beaten, probably into third place, at the Euro elections next month. It won’t stop leadership talk.
But it won’t be like last summer. “The big difference is that this time, no one is trying to get rid of Gordon,” a Cabinet member tells me.
Three things will save him. First, memories of last summer’s pathetic, half-baked attempt at a mutiny.
If Labour had the guts to depose a leader, it would have done so last year. Instead, everyone in the Cabinet said “after you”. We learned then that Labour doesn’t do regicide. It’s psychological. The party suffers from a strange ‘unity’ complex.
Most of the Cabinet are preparing for a massive fight. But only AFTER Labour lose the election. Any sooner is too early.
They’ve psyched themselves for a civil war of Bosnian complexity. Some ministers fear it will last years.
Meanwhile, they have a flicker of hope: that the economy recovers in time for the election, and Labour collects the credit.
This is a delusion poor John Major suffered: that time would be his friend. Instead he had what he called a “voteless recovery”.
History is repeating itself. Labour is now entering the same self-destructive spiral of derision that swept Major to his political grave.
It seems as if Labour will end up in the worst of all places: they don’t respect their leader, but won’t get rid of him either.
So this summer panto will continue. With John Prescott back, chasing girls and raising laughs. Mandleson being booed in the wings. And through it all, the tragi-comic figure of Mad Hatter Brown, slipping on every banana skin on the stage — while Tories look on, in stitches.
So there’s no need for David Cameron to spend too much time attacking Labour. They’ll be doing it brilliantly — all by themselves.
WHAT can we learn from Obama’s 100 days? Nothing. Bill Clinton’s first hundred were disastrous, and Jimmy Carter played a blinder before he ran into the ground. Obama’s opening months have been neither brilliant nor botched. His presidency still has plenty time to become either.
FRASER NELSON is also political editor of The Spectator.



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