Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales, Lord Elis Thomas is a wise and cunning man. I recall him telling me that if I wanted to know who was behind a 'leak' or a 'plot', I should look no further than those who would most benefit. I thought it sensible to accept the advice of a true expert in the field.
So who was behind the utterly bizarre letter sent to all Labour MPs on Wednesday, calling (in effect) for Gordon Brown to be dumped as Prime Minister. Let me firstly set aside some of the conclusions that have been reached. I do not believe that Geoff Hoon or Patricia Hewitt are sufficiently stupid to have written it without partner(s) in crime. But I do think they were content to accept the opprobrium of their fellow Labour MPs - on behalf of others who were not in a position to break cover. Neither do I think the purpose was necessarily to remove Gordon Brown from office. But I do think the purpose was to remove power and influence from Gordon Brown while allowing him to remain in office. Referring back to the wise words of Lord Elis Thomas, I suspect the architects of the Hoon/Hewitt plot were Lord Mandelson and Alistair Darling.
Several commentators in today's press have focused on the Chancellor's quite extraordinary interviews post the plot. He has contemptuously dismissed the strategy on which the Prime Minister intended to fight the General Election. His recently delivered PBR has been consigned to the shredder. No more of this unbelievable stuff about increases in public spending during the next Parliament. Suddenly, its cuts the like of which we have never seen before. Cutting the Government deficit is "non-negotiable". A Labour Minister talking sense at last. No more of this nonsense about class either. The Chancellor has started talking up his own comfortable upbringing and private education. And who else but the 'Dark Prince' should emerge as the cock of the playground. It no longer matters that Gordon Brown is Prime Minister. Its now Alistair Darling and Lord Mandelson who are calling the shots. And we are going to have a much more honest debate, based on policy, before the next General Election.
Reminds me of Kenneth Clarke in 1996/7. He could see that the John Major's Government, of which he was Chancellor, was likely to go down to a thumping defeat. Yet he refused to sacrifice the national finances to buy votes. I remember Ken being criticised for building up a strong economy, allowing the Blair/Brown double act to make attractive promises of investment in 'schoolsanhospitals'. The Major Government was duly hammered in the polls, but Clarke won massive respect, which has lasted to this day. Darling would like a slice of that. And as for Lord Mandelson, financial credibility will be crucial on his CV, when the boardrooms of BP and others beckon - if things should all go horribly wrong. While Hoon and Hewitt are cowering under a fusillade of snowballs, the real plotters are writing the script for what our hapless Prime Minister will be told to say tomorrow. And there's not one incriminating fingerprint. Lord Elis Thomas himself couldn't have planned it better.