American diplomats in London had formed a damning judgment on Gordon Brown’s premiership within a year of his arrival at 10 Downing Street, according to secret documents released by whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
Assessments of the UK political situation sent to Washington by then US ambassador Robert Tuttle noted Mr Brown’s “abysmal” record and lack of charisma as he “lurches from political disaster to disaster”. Just months after ousting Tony Blair as leader, Labour was experiencing “post-Blair rudderlessness” as Mr Brown’s vision failed to spark enthusiasm, he wrote.
Mr Tuttle’s cables are among 250,000 secret documents obtained by WikiLeaks and released onto the internet in co-operation with newspapers including The Guardian.
They show that the US embassy followed the travails of the Brown premiership closely and provided updates to the State Department on his probable successors as Labour leader – apparently without spotting the man who eventually replaced him, Ed Miliband.
Following Labour’s by-election defeat at the hands of the SNP in Glasgow East in July 2008, Mr Tuttle reported: “As Gordon Brown lurches from political disaster to disaster, Westminster is abuzz with speculation about whether he will be replaced as prime minister and Labour party leader, and, if so, by whom.
“A terrible by-election defeat… has left the Labour party reeling and fuelled fears among MPs that Brown’s leadership of the party, and his premiership, may now be beyond repair.”
One of the PM’s closest lieutenants, Nick Brown, had briefed the embassy the morning after the Glasgow poll that the by-election result was “terrible” but that Mr Brown would be able to “slap down” any threat to his leadership.
Mr Tuttle reported signs of problems even earlier than this, at Labour’s first spring conference under Mr Brown in 2008. The conference was “characterised by low energy, poor attendance, and a lack of charismatic leadership”, wrote the ambassador.
During the financial crisis following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in autumn 2008, the embassy reported that Mr Brown was “suddenly riding high”. But by April 2009, following the resignation of aide Damian McBride over a plot to smear Tories, US officials judged the party was at such a low ebb that it was “unlikely that any Labour politician with his or her eye on the future would want to take on the sinking ship that is the current Labour party at this time of crisis”.
An official predicted correctly that Mr Brown would be allowed to remain at the helm until the election and replaced shortly after Labour’s defeat.