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LOST THE PLOT! Labour have handed election victory to Cameron.

Byline: matt withers

COUP BLIMEY: failed bid, along AS coups go, the botched attempt by Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt to depose of Gordon Brown last week was a textbook example of how not to do it.

There are basic rules in staging a coup. Mr Hoon and Ms Hewitt successfully managed to avoid every single one of them.

Perhaps they should have had a chat with some of their parliamentary colleagues on the other side of the House of Commons. The Conservatives know how to rid themselves of leaders when they become an electoral liability.

Margaret Thatcher, the party's most successful election-winning machine of the last century, was coldly and ruthlessly dispatched when it became clear she was incapable of leading them to a fourth successive victory.

Iain Duncan Smith, the quiet man, was got rid of without too much noise. His execution was carried out with the minimum of fuss, his replacement, Michael Howard, brought in without competition in a matter of days.

Even the Liberal Democrats, who once would no more have thrown a leader overboard than kick a dog with their home-made sandals, have learnt how to be cut-throat when needed.

Charles Kennedy got a visitation from the men in grey suits when it was becoming clear his fondness for the bottle was getting out of hand; he was quickly announcing his departure. When chatter about Sir Menzies Campbell's sock suspenders threatened to make him a laughing stock, senior MPs struck again - and he was gone.

Labour, meanwhile, for a party which once strode the electoral landscape like a colossus, seems utterly incapable of mounting a challenge to Gordon Brown which doesn't quickly descend into a music hall farce.

Firstly, coups are generally successful when organised by respected party figures. Geoff "Buff" Hoon is universally seen as a failed minister with an axe to grind; Patricia Hewitt, not even a household name in her own household, could sketch out a lifetime's political achievements on the back of a stamp.

Secondly, and more importantly, this would not be so important were they stalking horses in the knowledge big hitters would follow. If they had lined up five or six ministers who would announce their resignations, say, each hour on the hour, Gordon Brown would be gone by now. But it appears that the first anyone senior knew about the putsch was when they received the e-mail from Mr Hoon and Ms Hewitt - an e-mail timed, with almost poetic haplessness, to coincide with a Prime Minister's Questions Mr Brown was widely seen to have outperformed David Cameron in.

There then followed a brief period where those Cabinet members who would like to see the back of Mr Brown - and there are many - each waited to see what their colleagues would do. "You go first," was the unspoken message. Nobody wanted to follow the example of James Purnell, the Work and Pensions Secretary who resigned last year, expected to start a mass exodus from government - and then turned around to see nobody behind him.

So with nobody ready to take a lead, Cabinet ministers felt bounced into throwing their support behind the beleaguered Prime Minister with a series of endorsements that couldn't have been less ringing, best summed up by Foreign Secretary David Miliband's passionate, tub-thumping defence of his leader's qualities: "I am working closely with the Prime Minister on foreign-policy issues and support the re-election campaign for a Labour government that he is leading."

So, inexplicably, Mr Brown continues to fight another day.

And now, almost certainly, fight his way right up to May 6, the likely date of the general election. After this plot - if it deserves such a word - fizzled out so pathetically, it is surely the last coup attempt Mr Brown will face before the general election. As such it is, in all probability, the last he will face in his political career, doomed, as he appears to be, to be an opposition backbencher after the country goes to the polls.

Plenty of politicians complain that this is an obsession with personality over policy. But it is more than that. Because removing Mr Brown was the last chance Labour had of ditching a general election policy that appears to involve doing away with Tony Blair's 'Big Tent' style - one that involved appealing to the aspirational middle classes and southern English counties, and which won three elections - in favour of sticking to Labour's core vote.

There are plenty in the Cabinet who know this will lead to disaster: Lord Mandelson, Jack Straw, Harriet Harman, Andy Burnham, among others.

The fact none of them were prepared to stand up to Mr Brown and make a decisive move to force him out means they can only stand and watch as the Prime Minister leads his party to almost certain electoral disaster. They will have plenty of time to think about it when they return to the misery of opposition.

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COUP BLIMEY: No wonder Patricia Hewitt looks despondent after her failed bid, along with fellow plotter Geoff Hoon, to oust Gordon Brown
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 10, 2010
Words:845
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