Harold Wilson once famously remarked that a week is a long time in politics. That has certainly been shown to be true over the last week. Before the Conservative party conference a snap general election was seen as inevitable, leading to a victory for Gordon Brown and humiliation for David Cameron.
My view has been all along:
1. That there was no constitutional necessity for an election
2. As a political gamble it was high risk
3. Gordon Brown wouldn't call one in November (I expressed this view on Radio WM last Monday)
If Gordon Brown wanted to get on with the business of government, he could have said this at the Labour Party conference. Now David Cameron is able to portray him as frightened of an election and has won a substantial tactical victory. Again, I have always thought that David Cameron was a smart politician, his main problem being with some people in his own party.
However, having an election delayed until 2009 may not entirely a good thing for the Conservatives. In that sense, their victory may be a little pyrrhic. However, it has done wonders for Conservative morale and damaged that of the Labour Party. In that sense it is a serious political miscalculation and no doubt there will be some fall out (and fall guys) within Labour ranks.
Sometimes, however, one does despair of the electorate. It's a perfectly respectable and defensible political position to want lower taxes and less government. But in a vox pop in the Sunday Times today one voter said that she would vote Conservative 'if they reduce tax and put more money into healthcare. I'd like to see more police on the streets too.'
How can one square that circle? Reducing waste and inefficiency in government is no doubt one answer, but it is easier said than done and cuts in civil service staff may already have been taken too far in some cases (note the problems with the Rural Payments Agency).
It's very difficult to satisfy an electorate that wants lower taxes and better services. It may this that eventually undoes New Labour, although any party that remains in office for too long ultimately gets removed.