In other words, ‘I’m not going yet, even if it is my fault.’ Speaking at a hastily-convened press conference late on Friday afternoon, Brown stressed the need for concerted action to clean up politics and to sort out the recession, but pointedly didn’t say too much about the rate at which he is running out of cabinet ministers.
Since Friday morning he has lost four more senior ministers – Geoff Hoon from transport, Tony McNulty from employment and Margaret Beckett from housing - plus Europe minister Caroline Flint and Ian Gibson, MP for Norwich North, who has also resigned. At this rate there won’t be anyone left by the end of the week. Will the last one out of the cabinet please turn off the lights?
His difficulty in finding big beasts to replace all the outgoing ministers is becoming increasingly obvious, too. We now have as Defence Secretary the previously almost-unknown MP for Coventry North East and ex-Armed Forces Minister, Bob Ainsworth, while former culture secretary Andy Burnham takes a similarly huge step up to become Health Secretary. Peter Hain – who left government under something of a cloud in 2007 – returns as Welsh Secretary.
And there are now only four women cabinet ministers left – Harriet Harman, Yvette Cooper and Baroness Royall. There were eight when he took over. It would have been three but for the surprise (you can say that again) appointment of Glenys Kinnock to replace Flint. Why not bring Neil back too and make it a family affair? Oh, and entrepreneurship tsar Alan Sugar gets a peerage, so he will presumably spend his mornings scrutinising potential legislation and afternoons 'encouraging' entrepreneurs and practising his Apprentice catchphrase 'You're fired!'. You couldn't make it up.
Just to add to the general angst of what must be one of the grimmest weekends for a serving PM on record, the local election results are of historically-awful mien as far as Labour is concerned: it no longer controls a single council in England. As are the Euro election results, in which it has seemingly been beaten into third place by UKIP. Oh dear.
But what exactly are the cabinet rebels up to? Concerted action it ain't. The best we can come up with is that they all want Gordon to go, but they lack both the individual bottle to stick their neck out and stand against him and the collective organistion to make a plan. Hence the piecemeal resignations. Whatever the reason, it’s not an edifying prospect.
Still, by comparison with some ‘stakeholder groups’ business has got off fairly lightly. Darling is still Chancellor (yes, we know a lot of you would prefer he wasn’t) and business secretary Lord Mandelson still reigns supreme, not only at DBERR but also as a kind of unofficial deputy PM. Indeed it seems that Mandy's vigorous support is the main thing keeping Gordon Brown going.
Thus buoyed, he remains determined to stick out his term, and it's not impossible that he will make it. Finding a Labour bigwig who is willing to take on the leadership at a time when the next general election looks like it's already been lost is not going to be easy after all.