Page last updated at 08:38 GMT, Tuesday, 27 May 2008 09:38 UK

Martha Kearney's week

By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's The World at One

If only Wicked Whispers in the Mirror did politics!

Edward Timpson David Cameron
The Tory victory in Crewe has Labour MPs worrying about their jobs

Which three ministers (two in the Cabinet) are now prepared to tell Gordon Brown he must go?

Which senior Cabinet minister is preparing his leadership campaign and recruiting campaigners?

Which Cabinet minister is going to resign next week and so provoke a reshuffle?

Which former Blairite is writing a scathing article for the Sunday papers?

These are all well sourced rumours I have heard in the last 24 hours giving you a sense of just how torrid the atmosphere now is following the Crewe & Nantwich by-election which has been so disastrous for Labour.

Now the 3am girls were probably otherwise occupied in the early hours but if there had been a TV set in Boujis or Mahiki they would no doubt have been mesmerised by John Curtice's analysis of the results in Crewe & Nantwich.

Playing the old Peter Snow game "just a bit of fun" (ie assuming people voted across the country in same way at a General Election), John Curtice predicted that the Conservatives would win an overall majority of around 340.

The psephologist went on to say that even discounting the swing between by-elections and general elections, "this is still the kind of performance that would suggest in an imminent General Election the Conservatives would win an overall majority".

Toff tactic

No wonder Labour MPs in marginal seats are getting twitchy and wondering if a change of leader would save their skin.

There are 146 Labour held seats more marginal than Crewe?including two Cabinet ministers (Jacqui Smith and Ruth Kelly) and a swing of the sort we saw in the by-election would threaten the seats of half the Cabinet (including Alistair Darling, Jack Straw, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Alan Johnson).

No doubt there will be an inquest into the campaign and especially the Tory toff tactic.

A senior campaigner in the south east, Stephen Ladyman told us it was a "bit crude".

That's a public comment - you can imagine what is being said in private.

It will also make it much harder for Labour to target David Cameron or Boris Johnson in the future as too posh to govern.

New careers?

MPs are now having to think about what to do in the event that they lose their seats - over two dozen Labour MPs have already announced they're planning to stand down at the next election and expect to see quite a few more announce they're planning to retire rather than face defeat.

Any thoughts on new careers for ex Labour MPs?

One MP I spoke to recently had been wondering whether the rules on leadership would allow a challenge this year.

He was about to get his American intern to find out but then realised that it might not be tactful to have party HQ find out that his office wanted to find out how to depose the Prime Minister. She was given some inputting to do instead.

Making the rather large assumption that there could be a contest, who might the runners and riders be?

I have heard that Alan Milburn is ready to throw his hat in the ring but he must be aware of the old Heseltine rule "he who wields the knife never wears the crown".

David Miliband and James Purnell are being assessed by MPs.

Tax cuts

Some were impressed by Alan Johnson's calming performance on Today (though remember his lacklustre conference speech).

Ed Balls would probably be a contender if Brown had already gone but is he too associated with what has gone wrong?

And Jack Straw and Harriet Harman too would no doubt fancy their chances.

But can Gordon Brown pull things round and quell the potential mutiny?

He has already played the cards of more tax cuts and the draft Queen's speech.

There are difficult times ahead with the vote on the 42 day period of detention without charge.

It looks like even with concessions the terror bill may only get through with the support of the Democratic Unionists, reminiscent, one MP told me, of the late 1970s under Jim Callaghan.

Oil price

Then there are all the economic problems.

We devoted the whole of Thursday's programme to the record price of oil.

Those soaring costs can't be blamed on Gordon Brown but he is facing increasing pressure not to raise taxes on fuel in the autumn from his own backbenchers as wells as the opposition.

At least next week there is a parliamentary recess so MPs won't be clustering on the traditional plotting territory of the terrace overlooking the Thames.

But it won't be a happy half term for Gordon Brown.

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