Saturday, 29 September 2007

The case against an autumn election

I don't know whether Gordon Brown will call an autumn election. I don't think he knows himself. He will wait to see how 'Dave' gets on at the Conservative conference first. But he is under a lot of pressure from his advisers to call an autumn election. The media are also stoking up the story because it provides good copy for them.

An early election would be a disaster for British psephologists, because they are simply not ready. However, that is not my main concern.

British parliaments are elected for five years. Very often an election is called after four years (as in 2001 and 2005). John Major hung on to the last possible minute in the hope of a miracle recovery.

It is unusual to have an election after two-and-a-half years when a government has a working majority. Of course, there has been a change of prime minister. But it was well known in 2005 that Tony Blair was going to step down and that Gordon Brown would be his successor. No one can claim that they were misled. When Jim Callaghan took over from Harold Wilson, there were no serious (as distinct from partisan) demands for an election.

My sense is that the British public do not like unnecessary elections. Calling one now could seem opportunistic. These arguments would be somewhat weaker next May.

Many people in the Labour Party think that Gordon Brown should cash in on his poll lead while he can. But in some ways I think that the poll lead is a mirage. There is a 'Brown bounce', but the polls are also recording a 'bandwagon' effect. Brown's lead could easily evaporate in a campaign or he could end up with a smaller majority or no majority at all.

There is some anecdotal evidence that the Conservatives are doing better in the seats they have to win like my own constituency of Warwick and Leamington, the former 'Garden of Eden'. The poor Liberal showing could lead to a lot of Conservative gains (although with fewer seats they could still hold the balance of power).

Gordon Brown is a cautious man. There is much that he wants to achieve. He does not want his DNB entry to read 'Prime Minister, 2007-2007.' I think he will wait until next spring. The analogy with Callaghan in 1978/9 is misleading in my view because the circumstances were different (I was one of the few people not surprised by Sunny Jim's decision).

But I could be wrong. We could soon be plunged into the 'excitement' of a general election campaign and face the choice: Gordon or Dave (and what about Ming)?


skipper said...

Welcome to the blogospere! As someone who has laboured in it for over two years it's good to see another colleague has seen the appeal. But beware, it is addictive and can take up more time than you imagine. I agree with your analysis that the election is probably unwanted- Martin Kettle is censorious in Guardian today too- but the polls reported in the Times and Telegraph might just tip the balance. kettle is right Brown has no truly objective political advice so I suggest the PSA tenders for the job.
PS Like the blog design.

OT said...

Well his funeral was certainly at St Augustine's in East hendred, but was he interred there (maybe cremated?) - why not ask the vicar?