Blues' victory does not deliver knock-out

The Tories

After four weeks of political scandal which began with the MPs' expenses scandal and ended with a messy Cabinet reshuffle and carnage in the local elections, Gordon Brown will be relieved that he did not have to resign, last night, as Prime Minister.

David Cameron will be similarly relieved that it was not necessary for him to appear outside Downing Street with the oxygen mask. Mr Brown's premiership remains alive – albeit on a life support machine. The last thing Mr Cameron wants is for Mr Brown to be replaced as Labour leader this side of a general election.

Of course, the Prime Minister's authority is shot to pieces. This is not a Cabinet of his choice or of his making. With guns pointed at his head by Alistair Darling and David Miliband, he was in no position to move them. On the other hand, with so many vacancies created by the numerous departures, the Prime Minister is justified in presenting a "new look" to his government. Not that any of this will make a blind bit of difference to voters.

The question yet to be answered is whether the Parliamentary Labour Party will buy any of this. Its ranks have now been swelled by Ms Blears, Ms Flint and Mr Purnell, who will no doubt play an active part in the plotting. It may just be, however, that even if the calculations of many MPs are that they are doomed to lose their seats under Mr Brown's premiership, inertia and torpor will yet triumph over these attempts to mount a backbench peasants' revolt.

The actual results indicate that the country wants rid of this government – Labour no longer controls any county council. According to Professor Tony Travers, local government expert at the London School of Economics, the number of seats gained by the Tories far exceeded their best expectations; they took control of Lancashire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire. They also won Devon and Somerset from the Lib Dems, who will be concerned about the improved chances of Tory parliamentary gains in these battlegrounds. But the Lib Dem national share of the vote, at 28 per cent, was substantially better than last year. Prof Travers notes that if this had been a general election, the Tories' 38 per cent share of the vote is still not good enough for an overall majority, and is down on last year's results. Labour's national share at 23 per cent, however, is their worst ever.

Mr Cameron is therefore the clear winner of all the three party leaders. And he has the bonus of a potential by-election victory created by Dr Ian Gibson's resignation in Norwich South. The Tories should have little trouble overturning his 5,459 majority. Labour would bumble on to an election next May.

No one in this febrile atmosphere can conclude, however, that Mr Brown will survive this civil war. Margaret Thatcher carried out her last reshuffle in 1990, following the resignation of Geoffrey Howe, only for her resignation to occur a month later. The full effects of the Labour wipe-out can only be fully assessed next Monday when the results of the European elections will be known.

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