Has the leadership challenge to Brown begun? All the commentators seem to think so now that David Miliband has written an article for the Guardian saying that there is still hope for Labour at the next General Election, failing to even mention Brown, admitting lots of mistakes, whilst attacking David Cameron and appearing to set out his vision of where Labour goes next.
Of course, the notion that this is a push by the Foreign Secretary has been denied by him, sorry, I mean by his friends. Miliband will not, says his friends, wield the knife, but if someone else does he will stand. You can almost understand the rationale for this. If he does the killing then he probably won't make it through to win due to the adverse exposure of his ambitious side.
However, on the flip side, by making it clear that he would run if only someone would do the dirty work to give him his chance, he effectively admits that he is indecisive, weak and lacking the quality that a leader must have if he hopes to successfully lead. Interestingly this seems to be the position for almost every possible challenger that the commentariat see as viable.
Yesterday Harriet Harman confirmed the trusim that one should believe nothing until it is officially denied by stating that she never said "this is my moment" and then went on to deliver a devastating backhanded compliment to Brown saying she did not accept that "it is over". It's an interesting strategy to take where you support someone by reinforcing a view that you claim you don't think people should be thinking.
What however is Brown to do about any of this? He's been castigated for his obsession with working all hours of the day and night (usefully coined by him as "getting on with the job"), to the point where people say he should take a holiday. He then takes a holiday and everyone starts manoevering around him. If he acts he confirms the workaholic obssessive tag and if he doesn't he's screwed as well. One might almost feel sorry for him but only for a nanosecond.
Some have suggested that what he needs is a damn good reshuffle, perhaps even to the extent of his own "night of the long knives", but even the smallest of reshuffles will be fraught with dangers for his own survival. After all, Brown will have his fair share in the Cabinet of what John Major called "bastards". The names being floated around Westminster as sucessors cannot be easily demoted or removed lest they do a Geoffrey Howe on him.
The key to Brown's problems are actually Brown himself and the history of his journey into the helm of power and leader of Her Majesty's Government. Along the way he has calculated, controlled, manipulated and basically just pissed off so many that the cliche that it's "lonely at the top" has become true for him much faster than it has for others.
Contrary to the argument of Peter Riddell in this morning's Times, I don't think even devolution of power away from Dowing Street will not help him now. In fact, giving a free hand to departments and Cabinet ministers will more likely result in yet more open warfare and perceived spats in the top echelons of Government.
Trust and faith in Brown is not only gone amongst the general public, but it looks to be ebbing away amongst his own colleagues at the top of the Cabinet table too. The voices of support clearly ring hollow when set against the anonymous briefings. When your Cabinet not only start challenging your authority but then start to airbrush you out openly as Miliband has done today, surely it becomes clear that the proverbial game is up.
Having said this, what is the liklihood of Brown going quietly? It's been well noted across the comment sections of the press that it is by no means easy to remove a Labour leader and all the biographies of Brown, along with comment by others that have worked with him, suggest that his character is one that heads for the bunker even when he knows that it's all over. Tom Bower's biography illustrates this character flaw in Brown brilliantly.
Simultaneously, the election that never as showed the country that Brown is totally risk averse when it comes to taking big decisions. The possibilty of a Major style "back me or sack me" confidence vote seems therefore to be out of the question. The most likely scenario is therefore that he will just go on to defeat. The leadership mutterings and shifting "tectonic plates" will go on as each person lines themselves up for the electoral aftermath.
The electorate should be, I'd say, prepared to watch a very long, slow and painful death for the next two years. It will be like a Grand National horse falling at the first, breaking a leg, refusing to give up, whilst the stewards have a sudden moment of compassion and refuse to put it out its misery as it limps around Aintree.