Every election defeat means disaster for the leader who leads their party off the cliff. But the Labour Party will slaughter Gordon Brown like no other defeated Prime Minister before him if Labour, as must be certain now, loses the General Election in the early hours of Friday morning. He chose to be PM, he chose to stay and fight on in spite of each coup - and he led Labour to defeat. Before I offer my prediction on the result, let's consider what will happen to Brown after Friday.
First, if it is to be a Hung Parliament, let's not forget that Brown is not obliged to resign until he's certain that he could not command the confidence of the Commons. Now, it's not been in Brown's nature to reliquish his premiership lightly, and it's not beyond the bounds of possiblity that Brown may seek cling on by his fingernails and try to form a coalition with the Lib Dems if they have gained a significant amount of seats. It's unlikely that the Lib Dems will win enough seats to be able to combine with Labour into a credible coalition, but I would not rule out Brown trying to cling on. Ted Heath lingered on in 1974 when he came second and four votes behind Harold Wilson's Labour Party. Brown is likely to be much further behind - but he may still try.
I suspect Brown would be strongly "urged" by those who ducked leadership coup after leadership coup to throw in the towel. So my hunch is that Brown won't linger in the bunker long, but it's likely that we'll see the Prime Minister concede defeat and go to the Palace to resign much later than in previous elections. I can't see a statement from Brown at four or five on Friday morning at his count saying that he's called Cameron to congratulate him on securing the most number of seats and having first right to form a government.
Labour's reaction to Brown's predicament on Friday will be fascinating. They should surely have already planned for this outcome. When John Major held his "put up or shut up" leadership challenge in 1995, he had a target written down beforehand - if he secured less votes, he would resign and wave his paper to those who claimed he was acting rashly. Even Thatcher calculated the maths to work out when she was finished. Brown must surely have done the same and will have decided to make a clean, dignified break. But Brown's track record suggest this is unlikely.
Ultimately, it may not be Brown's decision. Others in the Labour Party may have their own ideas. Brown's deadliest opposition on Friday is likely to be all those who pulled back from the brink in the failed coups of the last few years. The "Cabinet", led by Miliband and Straw are more likely to break their silence - blame the election defeat squarely on Brown and a "failure to renew the Labour Party" and insist that he stands down. They flunked the chance to kick him out before. They will not flinch from that on Friday. There may be such a collective relief at seeing the old, powerful bear finally mortally wounded; that they all pile in to finish him off. If he fails to go with dignity, the Labour Party will turn the pistol on him themselves. If they all decide to pile in with relish; including even Tony Blair finally breaking his "silence" it could be a very bloody end for Gordon Brown.
For the likes of (David or Ed) Miliband, a Hung Parliament will be "game on" in a big way. It will be a dream escape for a party that got stuck with the wrong, conceited, too-scary-to-oust leader but luckily was fighting an election against a Tory party whose project of renewal was incomplete and who had failed to "seal the deal". Cameron's project is more complete than Kinnock's in 1992, and he is a more convincing and appealing leader - and for that reason Cameron will achieve what Kinnock couldn't quite achieve and squeak through with a Hung Parliament.
A Brown-less Labour Party should seize the opportunity for re-birth. If they manage to limit their losses on Thursday and keep the party in second place and in tact, a revitalised leader will be able to get after the Tories on May 6th. The Tory inheritance will be rotten. The Tories are likely not to let anyone forget their argument that it was Labour's fault. But it was also Brown's fault and has been framed as Brown's fault by the Tories incessantly.
A Brown-less Labour Party will be one relieved of a mighty and painful sore. If skilful, a new Labour leader may be able to provoke twinges of regret in voters if he parades an experienced Shadow Cabinet packed full of ex-Ministers against Cameron's rookie team dealing with nightmarish spending cuts. Mervyn King suggested that the party that wins the election may be out of power for a generation. That might be excessive. But the Tory "win" - whether it's a wafer thin majority or not - may begin to look decisively flakey a few months down the line.