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A sea-change article in today’s Guardian. Polly Toynbee, the lefty voice at the heart of the paper, calls on Labour to topple Gordon Brown and install Alan Johnson. Toynbee has been a steadfast Brown apologist and was rooting for the jowled one right up until April. But her piece today surely spells doom:

Gordon Brown has been tested and found in want of almost every attribute a leader needs. Squalid dealings by his poisonous inner circle were exposed to the light of day; yet at the same time he lacks a leader’s necessary political cunning. Many hoped that the end of the rivalry with Blair would see Brown cast off his myrmidons. He didn’t. In the  tussle between his better and his worse selves, too often the lesser man won.

Oh dear.

Cartoon courtesy of www.mattbuck.com

Harriet Harman’s clash with William Hague at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday divided the blogosphere. The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow and Nick Watt broke from the pack and said she “hung Hague out to dry”. Jane Merrick, political editor of the Indie on Sunday, also though Harman had the edge.

More predictable were the damning responses from Simon Hoggart, Quentin Letts and Iain Dale, all of whom thought Brown’s deputy put on a disastrous performance.

If Harman seriously wants to edge out the likes of David Miliband and Alan Johnson when Brown falls – as this week’s press coverage would have us think – two things are certain. She’ll need to be able to deal with vicious briefings, however misogynistic. And she’ll need to hold up against tougher grillings than she got yesterday, on a daily basis.

Judging by her performance in the dispatch box, I’m not convinced she’s ready for either.

Let’s not understate the testing she got. Hague is a nifty parliamentarian, and his taunts over her rumoured leadership challenge in the clip above – “Why don’t you step in? When Chamberlain lost his party’s confidence, Churchill stepped forward” – were superbly delivered.

Harman also managed a few decent jabs of her own, most notably when Hague suggested senior government figures should show contrition for their role in the credit crunch:

As far as [Hague] is concerned can I remind him – if he wants to learn lessons – what he said when he was leader of the opposition? He said: “As prime minister I will make deregulation one of my top priorities. I will drive deregulation from the centre and I will promote ministers not on the basis of whether they regulate enough but on the basis of how much they deregulate.” So, yes, we have lessons to learn, but we’ll learn no lessons from him.

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But she seemed too easily rattled by the juvenile shouts echoing across the benches, and when Hague asked a well-researched question about the government’s failure to implement its loan guarantee scheme for businesses, Harman reeled off a textbook inanity that showed she didn’t know her brief.

The Tory benches roared with boyish glee.

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What a strangely iconic image this is. As Gordon Brown’s British Airways jet lingered on the runway at the US airbase in Maryland, a quick-witted photographer pounced and sold the image to Getty. Within minutes it was all over the internet ahead of Brown’s White House meeting with Barack Obama.

There’s a voyeuristic element in the photo’s composition. Brown looks slightly vulnerable but he also manages to wear a bad-tempered expression. It pretty much sums him up.

I had fun writing the story up for Mirror.co.uk, but one witty comment on the Guardian website says it all:

“When I asked for concealer I meant for the last 10 years, not the wrinkles on my face.”

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I went along to the Treasury select committee in Portcullis House this afternoon to see five of the country’s best known financial journalists take a mild ruffling from John McFall and the boys. From the crowds milling in the corridor beforehand you could tell it was going to be top rate entertainment, and sitting inside were some newspaper A-listers – Quentin Letts doodling on his shorthand pad and Polly Toynbee bagging a seat near the front.

Simon Jenkins of the Guardian, Alex Brummer of the Daily Mail, Robert Peston of the BBC, Lionel Barber of the FT and Jeff Randall of Sky sat in front of the committee like unrepentant sixth formers. The mood swung back and forth from jocular to snappy. Tory MP Michael Fallon fired the first real salvo when he asked Peston whether he had any sources within the Treasury. Peston’s answer sent a ripple of chuckling through the crowd:

You won’t be surprised that the only area I’m uncomfortable talking about in public is sources of any sort. Over the years I’ve benefited from private conversations with a lot of people, including members of this committee. I’ve talked to you, for example.

Fallon pressed on, asking if Peston had his own pass to the Treasury. “I’m perfectly happy to say I have not got a pass to the Treasury,” Peston replied, adding that if Fallon liked he could ask the Treasury how often he was there, somewhere in the region of twice a year by his guess.

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Among predictable exchanges – did the witnesses feel responsible for precipitating the run on Northern Rock, no they didn’t – Simon Jenkins sounded the most controversial note.

He suggested the government leaked bad news about ailing banks to journalists like Peston before buying up the shares at a cheaper price a few days later.

I think the government has that level of competence. There was a massive interest to the taxpayer to make these shares cheaper. It would be almost weird for the government not to have done it, but how much the journalists involved knew about it I don’t know.

For the record, Peston and others rejected the idea. The talk dwindled as the session wore on, before at the end John McFall cheerily plugged Alex Brummer’s book, Crunched.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger was in a contemplative mood when he gave a talk at Oxford University last week. Against the backdrop of industry malaise, and despite predictions that the coming year will see a “harvesting of local newspapers”, Rusbridger managed to strike an upbeat note about the Guardian’s growing onrusbridger2line audience on the other side of the Atlantic.

This is the liberal hour in America, and it is the Guardian’s opportunity given its website and liberal style.

We’ve never spent a penny marketing it anywhere outside the UK. The audience came to us.

Rusbridger described the US’ leading papers as “amazingly parochial” and said that journalistically, America was withdrawing from the world.

He referred to American papers’ initial reaction to the Mumbai massacre, which they gave scant coverage.

The only problem at the moment is the fact search engines soak up the lion’s share of advertising revenue on the web. “They have got in between us and the advertisers,” Rusbridger said. “At some point there is going to be a sorting out of rules of trade between Google and content providers.”

He’ll need a strong latte before that meeting.