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Although the government won it's battle last night to partially privatise the probation service, 49 Labour MP's rebelled against Tony Blair, whose authority is ebbing away by the day. But beware the obvious when it comes to replacing him warns Laurence Inman.

I've never been coy about telling people how I vote.

Since 1970, wherever I have been living, at every national and local election I have voted for my Labour candidate.

That was up until 2003, when Tony ordered our troops into Iraq. In the last few elections I have voted for Green or Respect, whichever was available at the time, because I actually believe in what their policies propose, particularly the bits about not invading sovereign foreign countries and blasting their inhabitants to pieces.

For me voting Tory, ever, is out of the question. Lib-Dems ? They're just Tories without jackboots.

The problem with Labour is very serious.

I think Tony is now completely mad. He has to be in order to believe the stuff that comes out of his mouth. I don't suppose it's entirely his fault, (although you need a streak of lunacy to want the job in the first place,) because all Prime Ministers allow themselves to become cocooned in a comfy little nest of madness, constantly supported and encouraged in their crazy fantasies by a little coterie of assorted hangers-on, sycophants and nutters.

In fact, you'd have to be mad not to go mad in those circumstances.

Look at the almost incredible situation we're in now with regard to the leadership. He says he's going sometime this year, but not exactly when, thus ensuring a long and bitter struggle for succession behind the scenes which can do nothing but bring out long-suppressed rivalries and antagonisms and probably do immense damage to the reputations of everyone concerned.

It's not what we're used to. Power should be shifted in a matter of days at most.

I honestly believe that Tone's original ‘statement' was a lapse of attention, or even a slip of the tongue, but because every word he says is weighed and assessed by the media, he's now stuck with it. He obviously doesn't want to go. And he especially doesn't want Gordon to take over.

Why ? Because Gordon is not the kind of man who should be Prime Minister.

You see this time and time again. Voters do not always respond to the cleverest, most accomplished, articulate and knowledgeable candidate. In 1945 they chose Attlee, not Stafford Cripps. In 1964 they placed their trust in Wilson; would Labour have won with Richard Crossman or Anthony Crosland as leader ?

Gordon may know economic theory backwards, but he is an awkward, sullen man, something of a bully by all accounts, and, probably most importantly, he does that funny thing with his jaw at the end of end of every sentence.

The electorate has every right to ask: Why doesn't he do something about that ?

It may sound trivial, but elections are won and lost on less. Look at Nixon and his pasty face in 1960.

I remember seeing Jack Charlton on the telly once, reminiscing about the 1966 World Cup. He said he'd once asked Alf Ramsey how he went about picking a team. (Jack's no mug; he must have looked around more than once and thought: What am I doing here ?)

Ramsey's reply was interesting.

‘The best team is not always made up of the best eleven players, Jack.'

This is true. I remember at the time there were question-marks over players like Roger Hunt, Nobby Stiles and Ray Wilson. In fact, you would only describe Gordon Banks, Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton as world-class.

And Bobby Moore couldn't run to save his life. Nor could he head a ball.

But he was a natural captain. You can't imagine that team without him leading it.

There's a useful and accurate parallel to be made with the present situation Tony's dropped us in.

We shouldn't be lumbered with a Prime Minister simply on the basis of a discussion which took place thirteen years ago over the after-eights in some London restaurant, or because people are too frightened to speak up in case they don't get a plum job when the coronation eventually takes place.

Labour should pick the leader which voters can look at and think: Yes, I like and trust that person and I think he or she will do the job well.

I'm not sure that most people, when they look at Gordon Brown at the next election, will think that.

Brown for PM. What d'you reckon. Head to the News section of our messageboard. Now.

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