Labour's disaster at the polls on Thursday was so massive it's only now really sinking in. This is not mid-term blues: it is worse than meltdown. Labour has lost it with the voters and will lose the next general election unless it changes course and does it soon.
The architect of Labour's catastrophe is easy to identify: Gordon Brown, whose smart-arse last budget and utterly incompetent premiership over the past six months have left Labour staring into the abyss not only in comfortable middle England but in its northern and Welsh heartlands.
He is not up to the job and should never have got it. That he did was down to Tony Blair's idiotic agreement back in 1994 that Brown would be his preferred successor — a deal that guaranteed that no one else in 10 years of government came close to growing into a contender.
For 10 years in office, Brown played his cards with one intention, to shaft potential rivals for the top job when Tony eventually decided to go — and Blair acquiesced. By the time Brown's half-wit supporters in the parliamentary Labour Party made their move to force Blair's resignation in autumn 2006 there was no one left standing to take Brown on. Robin Cook was dead, and the rest of the would-be contenders, most importantly Charles Clarke, were busted flushes — at least in terms of their government careers.
So we ended up with Gordon, nem con apart from a handful of diehard Trots.
But we don't need to keep him. Thanks, paradoxically, to his promotion of assorted youngsters to cabinet in order to refresh the government's image, there are now credible alternatives as there were not 18 months ago. David Miliband in particular stands out as everything Brown is not: telegenic, dynamic, engaged.
Of course, changing leader is not a panacea: Labour needs more than a different face at the top, most of all a credible narrative about how Britain would be better as a more equal society. But leadership matters all the same. Brown should recognise that his time has been and gone, and retire inside the next nine months. It does not need to be a dramatic resignation: he could discover a prostate problem as Harold Macmillan did or calmly announce that he has had enough of the strains of high office after all these years. But go he must.