It does look as if backbench Labour MP John McDonnell will challenge Gordon Brown in the leadership election. Michael Meacher has stood aside, as the left-wing candidate with fewer backers, and the hope of the left now is that they will have enough MP's willing to support at least one left-wing challenger. If not, so the rumour goes, Gordon Brown will order some of his supporters to help nominate McDonnell, as he believes an unopposed 'coronation' is a far worse option than a contest against an easily beatable candidate.
It is certainly the case that Brown is more likely to thrive than not on a contest. Given the chance to debate his ideas and his vision for Britain, he will be able to project himself in a far more effective way in the media than would happen without a challenge. Brown came across well in the Fabian Society debate last night, and the sight of him defending his views rather than simply announcing them can only be helpful. I remain less than confident than many members of the Conservative party currently are about Brown's electoral potency. A Conservative Home survey suggests that a substantial majority of Tory members see Brown as much easier to beat than Blair. Really? Brown will not carry the stench of Iraq in the way that Blair does; he is a seasoned, clued in and supremely ruthless political operator; he can lay claim to credit for the economic story that is one of Labour's perceived successes since 1997; and he is so different in terms of his image and character from his predecessor that it can only work to his advantage. If we are tired of a spin-based, image-conscious, hammy, insincere PM, then Brown, rather than Cameron, may prove the better antidote.
McDonnell's challenge will be welcomed by the Brown team; it wil help to season them for their bigger fight against a more lethal opponent in the form of David Cameron. It's going to be a fascinating two years.