...It is hard to find a senior Labour figure who does not privately believe that the party would have a significantly better chance if Mr Brown stepped down. Leaving aside questions of style and elector fatigue, one argument is that a new leader could openly acknowledge the mistakes as well as real successes of a party which Mr Brown has helped to dominate for 15 years – and make a credible case for repairing the former precisely because he – or she – is not so implicated in having made them in the first place.
All that is pretty common ground. The question is whether it could yet happen. The dissidents believe it is the political and moral duty of Mr Brown's most senior Cabinet colleagues to save the party from electoral disaster by refusing to serve under him. And that a short subsequent 21-day leadership contest, its bloodletting restrained by the imminence of a general election, could actually help rather than hinder the party's standing.
It might even resolve the still rumbling argument over how explicit to be about the inevitable cuts in public expenditure – outside the protected areas of hospitals and schools – needed to help tackle the biggest deficit in British economic history. Despite the widespread doubts about the Brown-Balls preoccupation with the investment versus cuts "dividing line" with the Tories, the Prime Minister and his Schools secretary are not completely alone in thinking that, since the cuts will not be relevant until 2011, there is no need to be specific now.
The contrary view is that it would actually enhance Labour's fiscal credibility to commit itself, say, to cutting Trident or even raising university tuition fees, at the same time as drawing the Tories on to Labour grounds by forcing them to idenifty their own plans for cuts. Certainly the Darling-Mandelson axis was not strong enough to overcome the Balls-Brown resistance to being specific on cuts before the pre-Budget report. There is no equivalent, so the argument goes, to the late Seventies alliance between Chancellor Healey and Prime Minister Callaghan which confronted voters with the facts of economic life, and, if it had not been for the union-fomented Winter of Discontent, might have beaten off the Thatcher challenge in 1979.
There are counter-arguments to all this. Whatever his deepest views on Labour's chances – and even if some think that, in the event of a wholesale Cabinet revolt, he might not "strive officiously to keep alive" his friend and leader – Peter Mandelson remains an unlikely regicide, on grounds of personal loyalty and bond. Other ministers who would ideally prefer a David Miliband premiership think the moment for enacting the Clarke scenario was not now but last year when James Purnell led the way, the catastrophic European election results provided a legitimate and immediate casus belli against Mr Brown, and Mr Miliband refused to strike
Finally, there are real fears in the Cabinet that such a revolt could misfire, with Mr Brown replacing the rebels and carrying on at the head of a broken party; and that, even if he did not, the story of the political murder would dominate the agenda until the election...
...Home thoughts from abroad risk lurching between the trite and untrue. But it does look as if the next fortnight will be critical. It appears that Tory support is wide but shallow and that another Labour leader could reduce it. But if the Prime Minister survives January – and past experience suggests he will – then Labour will probably have to take its chances with Mr Brown. The polls suggest that at the very best that could mean Labour forming the biggest single party in a hung Parliament.
It is at least as likely that the Tories will have an overall majority or that as the biggest single party they can govern as a minority until fighting a second election. If so, Labour, twice toppled from office in the last 40 years, will have to hope that the precedent is 1970, when it came back after four years, and not 1979, when it took 18.
This is a rare column on British politics from Macintyre, but he is one of the few columnists I would make sure I read every week if he were back in this country. I think he is sorely missed. I understand why he wanted a break from covering Westminster politics, but isn't it time he forsook the delights of the Middle East for the Westminster beat again? He would give the Independent some much needed political 'bottom' and make it a must read for those on both sides of the political spectrum. An analytical team of Macintyre and Steve Richards would be excellent. So come on, Don. Come home, at least for the election. You know it makes sense.