Talk this week of another leadership challenge to Gordon Brown is rightly dismissed as absurd by the UK press. Nevertheless, it hasnt stopped the UK press from playing up the story. It stems from Deputy Labour Leader, Harriet Harman's drive to get Cabinet action to curb bonuses to bankers. So the theory goes; she is making noises to appeal to the left wing vote of her party and so, it follows, she is positioning herself to take over from Gordon should he fall under a bus. However, Harriet Harman has been doggedly pursuing the issue of city bonuses for nigh on a year. Does she want the job? Most likely, and she would be vying for the mainstream left support of the party along with Ed Balls (ignore the stories that his wife, Yvette Cooper would be the ideal Stop Harriet candidate - for Cooper, read Balls).
More seriously, the Labour High Command are bracing themselves for a dire outcome to the European Elections in June. If Labour come third, then Gordon Brown would be looking as weak and vulnerable as he was last Summer. The BNP are campaigning hard to increase the percentage of the vote they got in the Northwest in 2004 (6.4%) to the 9% they would need to secure an MEP in the region. This would be bad enough but if they won another seat in the Yorskshire and Humberside region, there would be no hiding place for the PM.
Even in this scenario, I don't think that there would be an organised coup against Gordon Brown. I have said that he will feel increasingly compelled to see through the full 5 year mandate to steer the economy through the recession and wait until May 2010 before he calls an election. However, it won't prevent certain colleagues from positioning themselves should he decide to quit early or at least raise their profile over the next 12 months.
Lord Mandelson's determination to see through his controversial proposals to reform Royal Mail against the wishes of a considerable body of Labour MPs will also be a dangerous flashpoint for the PM. Brown could shrug of any revolt over the Royal Mail bill and reinforce his credentials as a radical reformer of public services. It will be the European Elections that would inflict fresh wounds on an already beleagured Prime Minister. Since Harriet Harman is heading the election campaign, she is in real danger of being blamed should the results be disastrous.