That the MSM has even been contemplating who might succeed Gordon Brown as leader of the Labour Party would, three months ago, have struck all but the most lunatic as a bizarre notion. Yet here we are on the cusp of Brown’s first Christmas in Number Ten wondering if it might also be his last.

Thus we have Iain Martin at The Three Line Whip on those Labour plotters who are punting Ed Balls as the likely replacement. Martin supports the Coffee House’s view that such people must be mad. Quite apart from being a man much damned in an unfortunate name – The Sun’s headline writers would go into creative overload with it at the very first hint of a Balls’ balls-up – he has only been in Parliament for five seconds, having first won his seat (which now disappears as a result of boundary changes) only in 2005.

He may have been Brown’s Rasputin but those eleven years of nibbling on the Chancellor’s ear lobes whilst whispering sweet nothings to his master do not provide the necessary experience of Parliamentary politics that would seem to most to be something of a prerequisite for a Prime Minister.

If, however, prior to destruction, Labour is made mad and ditches Brown for Balls, the Tories will be delighted. Balls is a wonderful target of opportunity. He would come deeply stained in the woad of the Brown years and every feature of the Brown Chancellorship that is henceforth shown to have been a turkey will be hung mercilessly round his neck. Balls has an unfortunate couple of personal impediments: he has bulgy eyes which give him the appearance of being quite mad and when he is being interviewed and comes under pressure, his tongue is set loose and he begins to gobble.

He also will find himself assailed because of his wife, Yvette Cooper, to whom he would be likely to give a job in his cabinet. She it was who presided earlier this year over the fiasco of the delayed and staggered introduction of HIPs, an operation fluffed by both her and her boss Ruth Kelly and many suspect her to be incompetent. How, if she fouls up anew, would or could he sack her?

Added to which he has been at the heart of the Brown implosion, continuing to advise notwithstanding his now being a minister with his own department to run, tarred with the brush of cowardice that will stick forever to all involved in the autumn march to the top of the hill of the election that never was. If matters so evolve that Brown goes from bad to worse and is ejected, Balls’ name will be linked symbiotically with that of his master for ever and a day.

Yet there are experienced writers out there who do nothing to discount the notion: witness John Rentoul in The Independent on Sunday, so one doubts that this idea is without foundation.

Looking at the present Cabinet, it is difficult to see who might qualify as a possible Prime Minister. It is a Cabinet that gives the appearance that the most keenly-prized characteristic is not to be a threat to Brown. This was almost certainly why Miliband was marginalised to the Foreign Office as I observed at the end of June. Of the rest, only Jack Straw has the sort of gravitas that makes one think of PM material. The rest is dross, something which is part of Brown’s present problems.

Jack Straw as PM? Now there is a truly scary idea…..