17 February 2010

Election fever: What’s Brown up to

After the flurry of new Tory posters on Monday, which then get instantly multiplied, this has hardly been an electrifying week on the road towards the polling stations.

The Commons is in recess, some people are on the slopes and the nation is recovering from that interview.  Meanwhile, in the bunker Brown and Mandelson have to decide when HMQ will exercise one of her few remaining constitutional duties and dissolve Parliament.

The Mole, who is having “his ear bent”, gives three reasons why Brown should go earlier than 6 May and “most probably” choose 15 April.  Well, we have had our finger in this pie before.  This date does present some practical difficulties.

Now, let us move to Mike Smithson’s overnight post, which is worth paying close attention to:

I heard this evening that Downing Street is aware that it cannot rely on the strict UNS calculation that the Tories need a 10-11% gap in the popular vote just to ensure an overall majority.

Clearly as the polls have got a bit tighter then all considerations have to be examined should Brown decide to do what he didn’t do in October 2007, call a general election when things looked favourable to his party.

For the main point about going early would be if it could increase the chances of depriving Cameron of an overall majority and given the state of the polls you need to be pretty sure of the bog-standard UNS seat calculators.

Whether or not Andy’s piece suggesting that 5-6% might be enough has been influential I do not know but I am aware that PB is followed closely within Brown Central.

This infers that Brown is carefully considering his options, although Smithson makes no reference to a possible date for an earlier poll.

The Mole is not the only one that has had his “ear bent”.  Peter Oborne floated the date of 25 March after speaking to “well-placed advisers inside Downing Street”.

Brown has been unusually quiet this week and so have the comrades.  There have been no eye-catching announcements and none of his famous dividing lines to wrong foot the Tories.

If there is to be an election on 25 March the decision has to be taken in a few days.  The dissolution would have to take place by the end of next week to allow for three full weeks of campaigning.  There are those TV debates to fit in.

The choice is simple.  Does Brown go earlier avoiding Chilcot and a budget that will do little, in hope that the polls will narrow during the campaign.  Or does he wait until April (unlikely) or May.  The problem here is the risk of unknown unknowns coming along that may not bring good news.

The early feedback indicates that the image changing interview hasn't worked, so he going have to pull another rabbit out of the hat.

Without an announcement about the budget date the speculation will continue about a March poll.  In their different ways, The Mole, Oborne and Smithson can’t all be wrong.

Brown has a habit of surprisingly us all from time to time.  Maybe early next week, he will will do it again.  As the Mole says:

By waiting to call an election on May 6, Brown looks weak - as if he's forced to hold an election because the clock is running down (which it is). By going early - at a time of his choosing - he looks more decisive.

And, of course, he will have shown a bit of courage.

There is an uneasy calm about the place.  Tactical Brown is up to something that hasn't been leaked or trailed in the newspapers.

The question is.  Will there be a March election?

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