I have known Siobhain McDonagh for over twenty years, several of them as chair of Mitcham and Morden CLP, and know that her decision to seek leadership nomination papers was not taken lightly. She is as loyal to the Labour Party as any MP could be; but she also has a better sense of voters' concerns than most. Why Gordon Brown's lieutenants decided to force the issue into the public domain at the end of a relatively successful week for the Prime Minister is a mystery. But then Brown was never completely blessed in his choice of lieutenants.
As it happens, I am not convinced that this is the right time to demand a leadership contest. But the fact that Siobhain does should send a shiver through the party leadership. For if anyone is a bellwether of party fortunes, she is. A formidable campaigner, she has defied significant swings against the party in her constituency; if she believes her seat, which she won from the Tories in 1997 and has retained handsomely since, and similar ones are at serious risk, it is as much an indicator of Labour's potential fate in 2010 as any opinion poll.
The question is whether a leadership contest would really clear the air or whether it would signal a sense of division to the wider public? And, more importantly, whether the divisions signalled by a contest would ultimately prove healthier for the Labour Party than a sense of continuing drift? Siobhain has bravely raised those questions. The challenge for Gordon Brown and the government is to show that it has the sense of purpose needed to restore party fortunes. And the will to win.