This week's abortive coup by Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt would be laughable, if it was not a slap in the face for faithful Labour Party supporters working hard to try and ensure the best possible results in the forthcoming elections. As a colleague of mine pointed out, the last attempt at regime change that Hoon was involved was in Baghdad. That was when he was Secretary of State for Defence. And we all know how successful that was.
This latest coup had all the hallmarks of the summer effort by James Purnell, Hazel Blears, etc. The protagonists have spent so long in the New Labour bubble that they have forgotten they are members of the Labour Party and that we have rules. There is no provision in our rule book for the secret ballot they were suggesting. The current chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Tony Lloyd MP, is a Brown loyalist who would sooner have his finger nails torn out with pliers than agree to such a thing. They had no agreed candidate and no alternative program. And, most important, they had not consulted any further than their own circle of aggrieved Blairites.
I am the secretary of the only functioning left wing group in the Parliamentary Party, the Socialist Campaign Group. Nobody asked us. Key figures in the centre were not spoken to either. Any attempt to remove Gordon Brown, which was perceived by ordinary MPs to be merely right-wing sectarianism, was dead on arrival. This bid was lucky to last the few hours that it did.
Ever since the summer of 2008, Charles Clarke MP (who has always been commendably open about his wish to defenestrate Brown) has carried around a brown paper file with the names of those willing to vote publicly for a leadership contest. Those names have never reached a hundred. And there has been no increase in the numbers over recent months. Clarke knows perfectly well that you could never force a contest under the existing rules.
He perhaps understands this better than the hapless Hoon and Hewitt. Because these were rules Clarke himself helped draw up in the 1980s, in his role as aide-de-camp to Neil Kinnock after the frighteningly (if you were a right-winger anyway) successful leadership bids of Tony Benn. The rules were drawn up precisely to ensure that a successful challenge was virtually impossible. Hence this week's pathetic attempt to bounce MPs into a contest outside the rules. This would have allowed timid colleagues to stab Gordon Brown in the back in the privacy of the polling booth.
And it did not help the credibility of Hoon and Hewitt's proposed putsch that most MPs knew that both of them are resigning at the next election to spend more time with their directorships. (Only Hewitt has declared this publicly).
Credulous journalists were going around Westminster on Wednesday afternoon insisting that Hoon must know what he was doing because he was a former Chief Whip. But Hoon had no more idea of what he was doing this week than he did when he sent our soldiers to war in Iraq. Nor did his extraordinary display of public and pointless disloyalty to the Labour movement sit well with those of us who have been lectured about loyalty by him in his capacity as Chief Whip. (Usually when we were contemplating voting for Labour movement policies and principles, against some New Labour atrocity).
No Labour MP has any doubt as to what Gordon Brown's failings are. He has been a big figure in the Labour movement for 20 years and his character is well known. It was certainly well known at the time in 2007 when he ascended to the leadership. I was one of a small group of left-wing Labour MPs who refused to nominate him. We wanted a contest and a debate about the future of the Labour Party. Meanwhile Hoon, Hewitt, Blears etc were falling over themselves to nominate. They can have no credibility now, when he has terminated their careers, (who says Gordon gets everything wrong?) to start claiming that they have suddenly discovered his flaws.
Of course, the big loser coming out of this week's abortive putsch is David Miliband. Three times he has been called on to rise up and lead a revolt against Brown. Three times he has bottled it. How long can you stay a credible leadership candidate when you have never done anything substantial except be Tony Blair's acolyte, your support is confined to the dinner tables of North London and you patently have no guts?
The good news is that this must surely be the Blairites' last throw of the dice. The mainstream of the party knows that (for good or ill) we now have to rally around the leadership and get on with the election campaign. And it is a blessed relief to know that there will never be a Lord Hoon or Baroness Hewitt now.
Diane Abbott is Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke NewingtonReuse content