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Tuesday, June 02, 2009 

Even the Mona Lisa is falling apart.

If the weekend and yesterday were bleak times for the government and especially Gordon Brown, then today can only be described as the worst of times. Normally, the announcement that three ministers would be stepping down would be only met with a shrug, even if the home secretary was among them. Such though is the precarious position which Labour finds itself in, it instead looks as if this a complete breakdown of control from the very top.

Again, no one will be shedding any tears for the departure of Jacqui Smith. She may be, as Iain Dale says, "a thoroughly nice woman", but she was simply the worst of all worlds when it came to being in charge of the Home Office. Having been promoted from chief whip, it was her expenses claims which did for her, but it really should have been both her dreadful failure to make the case for any of the policies which she was attempting to ram through parliament, and doubtless connected to that, the fact that all she seemed to be doing was instituting policies that had been decided for her. The one policy that she did have any real apparent interest in, the ridiculous and dangerous idea that men that paid for sex with women that were "controlled" by others could be charged with rape has had to be toned down, with the police highly critical of how on earth they were supposed to be able to enforce it. She can't exactly be blamed for the 42 days debacle, as that was undoubtedly Brown's policy as much as it was hers, but her continuing attraction to identity cards, her knee-jerk response to the knife crime panic of last summer, and most of all the Damian Green disaster, as well as the ludicrous banning of various "extreme" individuals all made her a typically tin-eared Labour home secretary. She wasn't quite as bad as either David Blunkett or John Reid, both of whom could have been accurately described as two of the most dangerous men in the country when they were at the Home Office, but that's hardly a ringing endorsement of her tenure.

Everyone though expected Smith to be out of a job come the reshuffle. It's that somehow, either she or someone couldn't keep the fact she was leaving out of the public domain until the time as when Brown had made his decision as to who her replacement will be. The question, as always, has to be whether it's conspiracy or cock-up, whether the leak is meant as a passing fusillade against Brown for the lack of support she seems to have been given. There is, it must be said, always rumour mills whirling furiously before expected reshuffles, but when a prime minister is as weak as Brown currently is, it seems utterly bizarre that he should be adding to it himself as he seems to have been by not given Alistair Darling his full support. Darling, as others have pointed out, has spent the last couple of years taking the flak for Brown, as it is after all his work while chancellor which has left Darling in such an enfeebled position, yet despite his loyalty and willingness to eat the equivalent of a shit sandwich repeatedly for his master, he's now been left out in the cold like the other miscreants which Brown thinks he can sacrifice. We all know why Hazel Blears' expenses claims can be described as "totally unacceptable" while James Purnell and others are given more equivocal backing, but why treat Darling in such a way?

It gives the impression that Brown has lost whatever remaining grip he had. Not the grip on the party itself - that had long gone, but now his hand seems to have left the tiller of the cabinet as well, those few that will still publicly defend him. Such events will always be exaggerated, but the Daily Mail again doesn't seem too far off tomorrow when it screams that the rats are leaving the sinking ship. If you wanted to indulge in conspiracy, as alluded to above, you might think that Smith's leaving was designed to make everyone engage in just this sort of speculation. Why else would you further undermine a prime minister prior to elections where it now seems credible that Labour could face its worst ever post-WW2 results unless you wanted to throw a spanner completely into the works?

Right on cue, the muttering in the Grauniad by the likes of Pollyanna Toynbee, Jackie Ashley and Martin Kettle has moved from their columns into the editorial itself. Tomorrow it calls for Brown to go with dignity. It isn't a bad argument, as far as they go, but it's the wrong timing again. The time for Brown to go and still retain some respect was last summer, not now. To go now would be utter humiliation, and surely those who wrote it must realise that. Regardless of Brown's mistakes and his personal failings, he still doesn't deserve such an ignominious fate. It is however typical of the modern Guardian that it called far too late for Blair to go and it now abandons Brown at the worst possible time, both for him and for the party. For far too long it indulged Blair's worst excesses with meek criticism while it has repeatedly failed to show the same fairness towards Brown. Who are these other individuals in the cabinet that would do a better job, but which the paper doesn't even deign to name? It too can't face up to the reality: that regardless of leader Labour in its current form is doomed. It needs to be rebuilt from the bottom up, to re-engage with its roots, to become a genuine party of the working person again. No one in the current cabinet is prepared for such radical thinking. It has become a small "c" conservative party, on some measures even more right-wing than the actual Tories themselves are. No party can so disengage from its supporters for so long and expect to survive, and it is at long last facing its denouement. The Mona Lisa itself is falling apart.

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