Sunday, 6 May 2007

Brown in, Reid out

John Reid has told the Politics Show that he will not serve in a Gordon Brown cabinet. However, he avoided attacking the Chancellor, even claiming that Brown had offered him a place in the Cabinet, which Reid declined. Reid has also said that he will back Brown for the leadership.

Speculation will be rife as to the motivation behind Reid’s announcement. One thing is certain: it has become clear even to the “anyone but Gordon” crowd that Brown is going to be the next prime minister. Usually, this would trigger a rush to embrace him before it is too late; few ministers easily give up the ministerial limo. But is may be that for the likes of Reid, serving beside Gordon Brown is too awful a prospect to face.

But why openly support Brown’s move to the leadership (it hardly warrants being called a “bid” anymore). There remains the option of retiring to the back benches, there to snipe and hope to undermine the Brown premiership. Yet Reid was categorical in his refusal to act as a lightning rod for anti-Brown New Labour sentiment (as opposed to anti-Brown old Labour sentiment, for which two lightning rods have emerged). Even from the back benches, he promised to be supportive.

Jaded political analysts among us might wonder whether this is mere window dressing, with Reid in fact planning to join the likes of Alan Milburn and Charles Clarke in fermenting dissatisfaction with Brown. But I doubt it. The Home Secretary is committed to the Labour Party, and may prove to be a wiser politician than either Milburn or Clarke.

I suspect Reid has accurately judged that any opposition to the Chancellor will damage Labour as a whole without necessarily protecting Labour or the country from the worst Brown has to offer. Battles between Brownites and Blairites have been at the root of many of Labour’s most difficult moments. It may therefore be the case that Reid is actually being frank when he says he will retire quietly to the backbenches and support Gordon Brown.

As Thursday’s election results showed, the pendulum is rapidly swinging from red to blue, and as the Tories demonstrated in the 1990s, that is not the time for party in-fighting. Reid may not like Gordon Brown, but he finds him infinitely preferable to David Cameron.

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