In the end I think a combination of the number of people Ken had managed to piss off during 8 years (4x4 drivers, people who don't like bendy buses, etc.) and the fall-out from the general unpopularity of the Government finished him off.
And what unpopularity it is. The government is now plumbing depths unheard of since the 1982-3 period when Michael Foot was "in charge". Down to 23% in the latest polls, with the Tories on 49%... it's grim reading, for sure.
Hence the attempted fightback this week. A two-pronged strategy:
- a £600 increase in the income tax personal allowance, meaning that any basic rate taxpayer will gain £120, hence being compensated for the abolition of the 10p tax rate.
- a raft of new policy measures announced in Parliament yesterday.
But so what? It was a daft rule in the first place. While it's generally agreed among economists that if the ratio of debt to GDP were to rise steadily over time, eventually this would be become unsustainable, there's no reason why breaching a specific level of debt to GDP should have any adverse effects. 40%, 50%, 60% - it doesn't really matter provided there's some expectation that the ratio will stabilise at some point in the future rather than spiralling out of control. Really, the substainable investment rule always was dodgy economics, and the Government would do well to drop it if at all possible, and replace it with some looser criterion specifying that debt should be kept within 'manageable' levels or some such phrase.
Still, a fightback was certainly called for after the mauling the Government suffered in the local elections. No guarantees whatsoever that the apology over the 10p tax rate will have any positive impact, but it was the right thing to do. Now they need to put some sort of strategy in place so they don't keep making these basic errors...
Personnel-wise it's hard to see Alistair Darling making it past the summer recess. He is damaged goods, even though the 10p debacle wasn't his fault (it was announced when Brown was still chancellor). He will be thrown to the wolves as a sacrifice. Alan Johnson would be a good replacement - especially as, if there is a leadership challenge to Brown (not impossible if his poll ratings are static or get worse over the summer), it is Johnson who would be one of the strongest candidates. But more on that another day.