23 September 2007

Brighton finally gets a rest

...but Bournemouth cops it, as Labour drops in this week.

And the big question is, will Brown use his speech to announce the date of the next General Election?

On the one hand, the polls look good. On the other hand, the polls can be (and have been) wrong, and even if things stay exactly as they are, it's believed that boundary changes in England and Wales cost Labour twelve seats. A swing of 1% to Labour would restore the Labour tally, but are swings to governments all that common. And a swing of 2% away from Labour and we say goodbye to Brown's majority.

On one hand, Brown might want his own mandate, as a status symbol. But if he loses, he goes down as the shortest serving PM since Canning, who had the excuse of death in office. If I recall, the last PM not to see a Hogmanay in office was Ramsay MAcDonald in 1924. Brown might want to avoid that example.

Then there's the state of the Tories: Cameron is losing support on the right to UKIP, and his attempt to touch base with his core voters have left those in the centre cold. The Tories are weak, so with the LibDems looking irrelevant, now's the time. But in Scotland, Labour are finding things more difficult than at any point over the last fifty years, and rumours abound that internal strife is a problem: within the Holyrood group, and between the Holyrood and Westminster groups. In an election where every seat will count, every SNP gain will give the West Lothian complainers something to crow about. And in the event of a hung Parliament, could Brown stomach turning to the SNP for support? Of course, on both sides of the border, there's a more serious problem afecting Labour: Councillors are the key to an activist and campaign base. The Councillors are out there, spreading the message, and thanks to a wave of awful local results in the last years of Blair, and the new system in Scotland, there are far fewer Labour Councillors out there to do that.

Then there's money. On the one hand, more time allows Labour to raise more cash. On the other hand, thanks to a loophole in the law, the Tories can pump more money into the key marginals now.

What about Brown's personality? Brown's supporters say that he's not afraid of tough decisions. His opponents say he's too cautious. But whatever he does, it's a tough decision, and a major risk: if he goes early, he could win his own mandate or surrender Labour's power early and unnecessarily; if he goes later he gets extra time to settle into the role and establish what the Brown government is and will serve for a little longer for sure, but things could go wrong and the defeat could be worse than any loss to happen now. So no clue there.

Presentation is equally problematic. The "it's time for change" argument may be an obvious one for the Tories - it worked for the SNP, after all - but Brown can do a Major and define himself as leading a new administration. Major went to the country 18 months after becoming PM and still managed to fend off Labour's own "Time for a change" campaign. So he can wait a few months. However, if the campaign is as negative as every Labour campaign from 1999 onwards, then he has to hope that David Cameron has no policies of his own to advocate - a recent study showed that the SNP benefitted from being able to present a positive vision, while Labour kept up a constant attack on how the sky would fall in if Alex Salmond got into Bute House. If the Tories have nothing positive to offer, Labour win by default. If they have, then Brown is in trouble. That would make it advantageous for Brown to call a vote for about five minutes' time.

And the final point is that of 'events'. Brown could go to the polls now to avoid a Callaghan, who left it too late. Events overtook Callaghan, and the extra time allowed for more things to go wrong. Brown has already had to deal with floods (handled well), terrorism (handled well), foot and mouth (handling not so well, but no one seems to notice and the affected areas are pretty solid Tory anyway, so no real problem politically), and the Northern Rock fiasco (handled the actual problem but incapable of dealing with the panic, though it's the Bank of England that appears to be feeling the heat). Can he tempt fate by leaving it? But on the other hand, anything can happen at any time, and unless it happens one second after the polls close, it can affect votes. If there were to be a crippling strike in October, or more cases of Foot & Mouth or Bluetongue, or the banking crisis rumbles on, then Brown will need time to try and sort things out.

Basically, there's a case for calling a poll, and a case for hanging on, at least until the Spring.

Today, my gut says he'll wait, but I could end up looking like a fool tomorrow. We shall see.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, if some sheep get a disease, I'll definitely not be voting labour.