Everybody knows that Gordon Brown will not lead the party into another General Election. So he will no doubt step down as party leader at some time in the near future.
What happens next could be crucial. We therefore remind you of Katwala's first rule of political recovery - How to get a leadership election right
No party which loses a General Election should elect its next leader within the first six months following the defeat.
The Labour party should not use its Autumn conference to crown a new leader - it should use the conference to put the spotlight on the contenders for a leadership election which takes place later in the Autumn.
This can easily be achieved, either by Brown staying on as a caretaker leader or, if he prefers to step down earlier, by his elected deputy Harriet Harman to be acting leader. (The Cabinet could choose an acting successor if Brown departed while still in office - but there is no good reason for this not to be Harman. The only possible argument is wanting a 'neutral' caretaker if Harman wants to run as a leadership candidate, but Margaret Beckett was both a candidate and acting leader in 1994). After an enormously male-dominated election campaign on all sides, the party might seem to be acting rather strangely if it usurped the role of its elected female deputy.
Not convinced? Here are five reasons.
1. If the Tories had not followed this approach in 2005, David Davis and not David Cameron would probably have just led the Conservative Party into the General Election. (Right-wing Tories who blame David Cameron for the electorate's reluctance to vote Tory no doubt think that would have been a triumph - but perhaps not).
So Gaby Hinsliff is right to advocate the Michael Howard model of leadership transition.
2. No Leader of the Opposition elected immediately after an election defeat has ever made it to Prime Minister in the post-war period.
Here's the history. Wilson, Heath, Thatcher, Blair and Cameron were all elected later in the cycle, while Kinnock, Hague and Duncan Smith were elected straight away. There is surely an element of coincidence, but there are also important reasons why this is a rational approach.
The Tories took six weeks to elect William Hague after being crushed in 1997; and began balloting MPs within a month in 2001, with IDS crowned by September. On neither occasion did the party properly debate its election defeat. A Labour party whose new MPs, tomorrow morning, have their mind primarily on which Miliband brother they may prefer to nominate as leader risks being in denial about defeat - and the need for a proper debate about the party's future.
3. Nobody in the party really knows what any of the potential contenders really think about Labour's record and future agenda - since they have almost all been entirely constrained by collective responsibility in office. Nor can a strategy for opposing the Tories be set out very clearly before we see how the next government approaches.
So "who should be the new leader" is a premature question before the party has begun a post-election debate. Whoever the candidates, it would be a healthier election if we hear a wide range of contributions
The dynamic of a contest will inevitably see much convergence in language and positioning between candidates - for example, if Ed Balls and David Miliband were both candidates, I predict that a great many of their statements about Labour's record and future would prove pretty much interchangeable, even as the newspapers tell us they offer starkly different future agendas. This risks the real debate taking place in code, in newspaper commentaries, and the proper debate taking place after the contest ends.
The real gain is not so much that somebody different may emerge, as that the party would have a healthier debate in selecting its leader. So the biggest gainer from a longer process would be whoever is elected at the end of it. Strong candidates among the current front-runners could hardly object. Whose supporters would want to advocate a quick contest on the grounds that they could anticipate doing worse if the party took more time?
4. Labour needs a very open election process which brings more people to Labour. After the Coronation of 2007, it does not need a quick fix in 2010. Setting out a timetable now would enable the party to invite supporters - and potential converts, who may include anti-Tory LibDems and others - that they can play a role in debating and deciding how Labour rebuilds. This is the ideal opportunity to use the party's new presence in social networks to bring more people into the party as members, to open up the party's culture and debates to to build campaigning strength for the next election too.
As Hopi Sen tweets:
As soon as Con-Dem alliance launches Labour should invite angry LibDems to send in their membership cards to get free Labour membership
5. Why throw away a chance to engage voters and to be in the media and political spotlight this Autumn?
Oppositions are not very interesting: the Labour party will have to adjust to this after more than a decade in power. An immediate contest will be very little noticed with most of the focus on the new government, and by the Autumn the question will be why the new leader has not yet broken through. By contrast, using the party conference as a showcase for the candidates is also the best way to simulate the new tests of leadership created by the new televised Prime Minsiterial debates.
The party should not fear an open debate and contest. Rumours of a civil war are enormously exaggerated, but risk an aversion to opening up the party's political culture in a way that is necessary to recover.
The only credible counter-argument is that there may be a very quick election this Autumn. But we shall know very soon how likely this is. In any event, most of the Labour leadership contenders have rather more experience in government than David Cameron: there would still be important advantages in as much public engagement and profile in the next Labour leadership contest as is possible in those circumstances too.