Today is a big test for the government. Even though everyone from local authorities to MPs to civil servants essentially went on holidays this week, the Norwich North by-election is going to cause consternation, exasperation and exaltation for one or another party in Westminster.
The seat, vacated by the widely respected Dr Ian Gibson after he was told he would not be allowed to run in the next election under the Labour flag after the expenses scandal, is now being hotly contested. While a number of news outlets have said Dr Gibson had a very good chance of winning again even if he ran as an independent, he has decided not to and there now are 12 candidates vying for the seat.
There is an outside chance Labour could scrape through by some landmark upset, although when candidate Chris Ostrowski was struck down with swine flu this week, effectively stopping any vital last minute campaigning, the chance of upset probably went out the window. There are suggestions that the Green candidate, Rupert Read could have a chance due to the unusually high number of Green candidates sitting on local authorities in the area. But combined with the presence of the Liberal-Democrat April Pond, any left leaning vote is going to be split leaving the Tory candidate, Chloe Smith, a young high-flying Conservative who is tipped for an extremely bright future, favourite to win.
But the real question is what happens after the election is announced? If the win to the Tories is massive, the leadership rumbles surrounding Brown will inevitably start again. There already seems to be increasing mumblings coming from sectors of the Labour Party. On the 12th of July, a number of female MPs attacked Brown for being ‘laddish’, while just last week Former Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell spoke to the press about his resignation from the Cabinet before the local elections in June. By equating New Labour to Britpop by saying “it was absolutely right for its time, but that time was 1994″, Purnell tried to turn the knife in Brown. These are ominous omens indeed.
While Blair was Teflon Tony, Brown must be likened to an underdog boxcar boxer fighting Mike Tyson. Brown has been pummelled so badly, a normal man would have fallen, but somehow, he has held on. Every now and then, he looks like he has composed himself and maybe fighting back, but then he gets hit again and he begins to stagger. One suspects there is only a matter of time before that knock-out punch comes, but the question is, will it be sooner or later and how badly will he be injured after the Norwich North result?