Two years before Labour won the 1997 general election, Tony Blair boasted that the Conservative Party was split, that John Major had effectively given in. "The white flag flies over Downing Street", Blair proclaimed. Thirteen years on, and in the heat of a war to save his premiership, Gordon Brown has yet to show any sign that he's ready to hoist up Major's old flag. A September reshuffle of the Cabinet has been scheduled, along with a mini-budget to fast-track new financial policies. And there remains the possibility that his leader's speech at the annual conference in Manchester will signal to the wider party that they have little choice but to back him and no time to hesitate about it. But can Brown make it to the conference?

The barely coded criticism of Brown last week by the foreign secretary, David Miliband, was the first public display of a deeper, private war, with those supposedly close and loyal to the prime minister waiting for the right time and the right opportunity to act collectively to force Brown to accept he can no longer remain in Number 10.

But the reaction to Miliband's attempt to position himself as Labour's Caesar-in-waiting has shown up the hesitancy that still surrounds the plotters. Critics of Miliband believe that any coup to oust Brown will be a kamikaze suicide mission. Any new leader, be it Miliband or Alan Johnson or Jack Straw or Harriet Harman, would have to call a general election, which would be held before there were any positive signs of an economic recovery. With the party still saddled with massive debts and a huge overdraft, a general election is something Labour simply can't afford right now.

Others, even in the senior ranks of Labour, however, believe that Brown remaining as leader is the one thing they can no longer afford. While Brown and those advisers around him in Downing Street know the daggers are out, there's a belief that the prime minister can still survive a limited assassination attempt if it's organised while the Commons is on holiday and when the strategic glue necessary for a successful regicide is at its weakest.

Fears, however, remain that a unified move against Brown will show up the weakness of his grip on power. The loss of Labour's third safest Scottish seat in the Glasgow East by-election, where a majority of 13,500 evaporated, was the catalyst that accelerated the readiness of potential challengers. Miliband's article in The Guardian last week and his numerous television and radio appearances were not naive and ill-timed. But where Miliband's ambition and stall are now well laid out, others such as Alan Johnson and Harriet Harman are playing a low-profile waiting game that emphasises loyalty, but nevertheless have would-be supporters ready to back them if Brown acknowledges he is surrounded and cannot take the full support of the Cabinet with him into the next parliamentary year.

Brown and his senior Downing Street staff cannot be seen to panic at the below-radar manoeuvring going on around him. But nor can his aides simply accept Miliband had a right to speak as he did.

Number 10's reflex briefing against Miliband, which branded him "disloyal" and "immature" shows the siege mentality that currently exists in Downing Street. With the Conservatives ahead in the polls by 20% and more, the Tories on course for a landslide and Brown's popularity ratings as low as any leader in modern British political history, the pessimism is said to be acute.

The planned September reshuffle has been designed to show that Brown still has plans to rejuvenate his government and himself. But according to one minister, it could backfire.

"A reshuffle means that everyone inside the Cabinet will now take stock of where they stand, of where their careers are. It also means everyone is reminded of how much time they have left. And no-one is looking beyond the new election," said one minister, who added: "Calculations will have been made: what do I owe Gordon, what do I owe the party, what do I owe to my family and myself? If daggers have been taken out of drawers, this may be the opportunity to sharpen them for some, and for others to think very carefully of what removing another prime minister will do."

Part 2 - Who will wield the dagger in the cabinet?

Part 3 - Holyrood - Gray supporter bought campaign website before Alexander quit

Part 4 - What do we in Scottish Labour need in our nation's new political landscape? A leader with guts to stand up to Westminster