Early Election?

With a poll showing the parties within touching distance, the speculation about an early election have been rife. How likely is it, I really don’t know, but let’s look at the pros and cons.

On the pro side…

1) The economy is likely to get worse. The CBI’s predictions last week had the recession continuing through 2009 and reaching its nadir in early 2010 with unemployment at around 3 million. In other words, if Brown waits until the last moment for an election he will be fighting it at the very worst moment economically, when the public’s spirits have been sapped by economic hardship, they are likely blaming him for lost jobs, lower incomes and repossessed houses and yet, there aren’t quite any tangible signs of recovery.
2) The polls are close enough to stand a chance. On the new electoral boundaries the Conservatives need a lead of somewhere around 10 points for a majority (it depends on how well the Lib Dems do) and Labour can be the biggest party in a hung Parliment even if they are a couple of points behind. So while the polls are still all showing the Conservatives ahead, we are for the first time in months in a position where Labour would have at least a chance of coming out of an election with the most seats.
3) Waiting till the last minute leaves no room for maneouvre. If Gordon Brown waits until the very last minute in 2010 it does leave him with no room for maneouvre at all. Think back to Tony Blair being forced to delay the election because of foot and mouth. If Brown waits all the way to June 2010 he has no such wiggle room, if there is a fuel protest or a major strike or some political scandal he can’t shelve the election for a season.
4) Signs of preparation. Labour are getting on with selecting candidates in unwinnable seats, ConservativeHome reported a rumour of Labour candidates getting all their candidate with Gordon photos done this month, the implication being they are for election leaflets. The NEC has apparently set up a new campaigning fund for future donations to go into. It would be wrong to say that Labour are going onto an election footing, we would have picked up much firmer signs, but the foundations are going down.
5) The cutting and running argument wouldn’t wash. If a big reason against calling an election is how it would look, the reality is that it would be only one day’s news story. Once an election really gets started the media and the political parties will be talking about more important things than the timing of the election.
6) He hasn’t ruled it out. There has been a lot of speculation about an early election, even in September and October it kept cropping up. While Gordon Brown has made coded comments about concentrating on getting on with the job he has conspicuously failed to rule out an early election.

On the other hand…

1) Going for an early undermines Brown’s selling point and the narrative that has got Labour back in the running. Currently Brown’s recovery rests on the message that he is the steady, reliable hand on the tiller at a time of crisis, that the country doesn’t need any risky alternatives, just let solid, trustworthy Gordon get on with the task at hand. Obviously this doesn’t sit well with calling an election that isn’t needed for a year – people would ask why Brown was calling an election rather than “getting on with the job”. The story might pass quickly, but it would be a very bad start to an election campaign.
2) You can do a lot in 18 months. At the moment Gordon Brown is Prime Minister and has a substantial majority in the Commons. If he goes now he might be the biggest party in a hung parliament and cobble together a deal with the Lib Dems, he might even scrape a majority. Then again, he might be kicked out, in which case he can do nothing at all and has thrown away his premiership. It isn’t actually a very good bet, and there is nothing forcing him to take it. Even if he has, say, a 30% chance of winning an election now or a 5% chance of winning one in 2010, if he waits till 2010 he has a guarantee of 18 months of being Prime Minister and running the country. That’s not something to be thrown away lightly.
3) On the present polls he would still lose. There is a tendency to take the most recent poll as gospel and think “only 3 points – it’s really close”. In fact we should be looking at the broader picture of the polls, judging the figures produced by all the pollsters and at present there are still companies producing figures that show a Conservative victory – indeed ICM, who have one of the very best track records, have a 13 point Tory lead. The smallest Conservative leads in the polls are found in polls where the level of Lib Dem support has collapsed to the low teens and it seems unlikely they wouldn’t reclaim some of the support they have lost to Labour in the past few weeks once they had the enforced TV coverage an election campaign affords them. It’s perfectly possible that in the future the polls as a whole will suggest that labour could win an election, but right now, the broader picture still shows that the Conservatives would win the hypothetical “general election tomorrow”.
4) Even considering it risks disaster. Last October’s non-election was a disaster for Brown and he can’t risk repeating it. As Ben Brogan suggests here, if it was under consideration it would have to be kept incredibly quiet, but even so. It’s almost impossible to really keep an election under wraps – advertising contracts and extra staff are necessary, but give the game away. If Brown allowed whispers of another election to start building steam and then was seen to chicken-out a second time the damage to his image doesn’t bear thinking about.
5) Character. Put simply, whatever the arguments, Gordon Brown has shown himself to be rather risk adverse and not someone who relishes elections.


87 Responses to “Early Election?”

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  1. Ivan,

    I can associate the BNP with narrow protectionism but although I don’t know that much about them I’ve never come across anything I’d identify as socialist. As to their xenophobia, it may be better packaged and spun but there is nothing mild about it.

    I’ve only really come across them when they have been talking about the SNP and Scotland and by and large they seem to hate us for threatening the Union and for immigration policies that threaten to dilute the Scots race and turn us in to another mongerl race.

    Unsurprisingly these attacks don’t annoy me, rather fill me with a warm glow of satisfaction.

    I rather like the notion of being able to upset Nazi’s just by being nice to people.

    Peter.

  2. Anthony – why is it being referred to as “an early election”?

    In the past thirty years, only 2 out of 6 General elections has occurred at the end of the 5 year parliaments.

  3. Because it’s earlier than everyone has expected until now. The assumption amongst almost all observers since the non-election last year is that Brown will go all the way to 2010.

  4. Ahhh the BNP. Socialist in the same sense as National Socialist I presume you mean.

    To be honest though they are a bit of a non-force. If they only way they can get votes is by toning down their rhetoric and showing black people voting for them (in Dagenham) then I am not too pushed. We must be wary obviously, but I don’t think we should let them distort the debate.

  5. I would like to agree with Peter Cairns. There is nothing remotely socialist about the BNP.

  6. I think it was understandable that Gordon Brown hesitated and faltered last time an election was mooted. He had only just arrived in post and could have been kicked out having done virtually nothing. Now at least, he will feel he has tackled, effectively or not, a major crisis and has been a figure on the world stage. This may make him much less reluctant to take the risk.

  7. Labour have their tails up, because they sense an opportunity to hide their mistakes in an American and British banking crisis.

    The Tories job is to clarify how they would sort this mess out.
    If they do that, there’s a good chance of re-establishing a lead of 10 or so points.
    If it fails, we’ll have a hung Parliament or even a tiny Labour victory.

  8. “The Tories job is to clarify how they would sort this mess out.”

    It is JJB-and Osborne will be under the spotlight on Monday-but I think he has a more pressing task-to get at the truth for voters.

    Brown consistently understated borrowing forecasts ( by over £120 bn) as he ran deficits in a boom-how much credibility will the Press allow Darling’s new forecasts for 2010-2011 & after.?

    How will Darling demonstrate “sustainable borrowing” as required by the G20 communique.When will the recession induced borrowing plus the fiscal stimulus funding plus Bank funding etc etc will be repaid-and how?

    Will it be repaid as we come out of recession, by higher tax revenues at existing tax rates, as claimed by the Labour Minister on QT-or will it be repaid by higher tax rates as claimed by Cameron.

    If it is the former , then what reduction in Public spending will result, and over what period?

    There is no way the Public Finances of UK can now have a good outcome for voters-even if the Fiscal Stimulus mitigates the worst effects of the recession-or indeed excacerbated by a Stimulus as claimed by some economists.

    It’s up to Osborne to put the spotlight on these crucial issues.

  9. I apologise to anyone who thought I was just describing the BNP as ‘old Labour with added racism’!

    OK, they are NOT ‘socialist’ perhaps but I remember an interview with one of them a few years ago on TV and he was mumbling on about the need to re nationalise the railways and more help for the ‘working classes’ etc. They’re no Libertarians!

  10. Colin – Robert Peston on the BBC site reckons that Darling in the PBR will announce:

    1. 40BN of annual tax revenues from the City have gone up in smoke -perhaps forever .
    2. Tax cuts for the low paid -through tax credits ?
    3. Deferred tax rises and public spending cuts for 2010/2011 – Perhaps the Tories were right not to match Labour spending commitments for these years.?
    4. Government borrowing requirement of £220BN over the next 2 years.
    5. A possible deferred VAT increase from 17.5% to 22.5%.

    Monday will be riveting for political anoraks – myself included.

  11. KTL-thanks-

    1&4-Bloody Hell!
    3-of course they were-but Cameron is still indicating above inflation increases-if Labour really plan “cuts” that is very interesting.!!
    5-???a VAT increase?

    Sky just reporting that Retailers warn of imported consumer goods increasing in price by up to a third after Christmas due to the falling pound.

  12. 4th June being touted in the Coffee House at
    http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/3028731/the-labour-arguments-for-a-june-4th-poll.thtml

    Rationale is that co-hosting the European and general elections is a financial efficiency for the broke Labour Party…

  13. Brown’s just put the kybosh on a June election.

  14. James Ludlow:
    I doubt whether Gordon has yet got a more definite idea than anyone else – including those posting here – when the next election will be. That’s not being “risk adverse” or “indecisive”, it’s just getting on with the big job in hand, and also (prudently!) waiting to see how things turn out next year.
    To Everyone Else:
    For goodness sake don’t worry any more about those BNP slugs being exposed – anyway how did this get into our erudite discussion of the polls!

  15. Prospective Labour Candidate reminds us that the Government intends to extend the tenure of current Councillors to hold local elections (mainly for County Councils) on the same day as Euroelections. This is clearly inappropriate given that electors chose their Councillors on the well-known understanding that they would serve a fixed four-year term. There is no emergency reason such as a war for this. It is just for administrative convenience and I believe in reality to be for attempted politcal advantage to submerge the Euro election.

    As an ex-Labour Party member, I am disgusted by such chicanery. More to the point of this site, and as Prospective Labour Candidate might care to know, Labour’s perceived loss of touch with their democratic and philosophical principles costs that party votes.

    Also, Gary Gatter, I would also like to think that people can hold two ideas in their head. But the sad truth is that if you hold two elections at once people get confused. Witness recent elections in Scotland. This is particularly true given that first past the post County Council elections and Euroelections held on the absolutely disgraceful Party List proportional representation system entail electors making their choices in very different ways, which the Scottish precedent shows to cause shambles.

    I make the point myself having been a candidate in concurrent District Council and Town Council elections many years ago. Even something as simple as having two votes on one ballot paper and three on the other causes problems..

    Do we really want to go down the United States system of having huge ballot papers so that voters have to queue for hours to choose between candidates for positions about which they know little and lack interest, but are grossly inconvenienced for really important elections?

    Sadly, Gary Gatter, there is much academic research evidence that when asked to make choices (in general, not just on political questions) people do fall back on a very few peices of information which are salient to them. They don’t normally engage in complex, rational decision-making. Of course, in political elections many people faced with a complex election fall back on vague feelings of preference for a major party, which is of course what Gordon Brown would like.
    If you doubt this, ask a car salesperson how punters go about buying a car.

    I really do feel very strongly that British politicians, of both major parties, are far too prepared to tinker with political arrangements for short-term advantage regardless of democratic principles. They have been getting away with it and it is time people refused to vote for such cynical people. Even if “it’s the economy stupid” the choice of such unprincipled politicians generalises from democratic integrity to the conscientiousness or otherwise of their economic management.

    Excuse me expressing these opinions on this site, but they do relate to matters that have strictly psephological consequences.

  16. There will be no election before 2010. An earlier election would, rightly, get short shrift from the electorate. In these straightened times, such a move would be an irrelevant disraction from the serious times we are experiencing, for which we need serious people with serious policies. Perhaps pollsters should be asking, ‘Do you want an early election?’ I suspect the answer would be a resounding negative.

  17. John C,

    “Perhaps pollsters should be asking, ‘Do you want an early election?”

    I suspect Labours internal polsters just have……

    Peter.

  18. As for the next election date at this point in time no one knows for sure, but a Labour lead in the Polls in May 2009 could mean a summer election. Come 2010 with 3,000,000 out of work, no more tax handouts, and people thinking they will have to pay a extra £0-08p on their tax, it will not go down too well.
    What are the polls for in England, and in Scotland, as I expect in Scotland Labour to be way in front of the Tory party, but if these polls are UK based, then the Tory party must be way ahead in England?

    So how would the out-come look based on this split?

  19. Ivan,

    The BNP are socialist in the same way the German National Socialists were.

    Most socialists prefer to skim over the fact that there is little difference between the economic policies of teh BNP and “true” socialists

  20. That is quite untrue and in fact libellous, Paul H-J. I think it’s very insulting for those on the Right to try & claim kinship between fascists & socialists.

  21. Paul,

    Interesting assertion, can you give us any examples of current BNP policies that are “Socialist”.?

    I am slightly sceptical about your inclusion of the word “true” as it is usually used a way to to tag people with the most extreme elements in any group.

    If you were to flag up protectionism as “truely” socialist then with a bit more twisting you could get Barak Obama in the BNP.

    Peter.

    Peter.

  22. @ JohnH – Brown definitively stated yesterday that there will not be a June election. Hence my comment above. Of course, he could change his mind – heaven knows, he loves to dither. But my guess is that the best case his advisers can offer him at the moment is a tiny majority win and a more likely result of either a hung parliament or of losing. Unless the polls really shift decisively and consistently in Labour’s favour – by which I mean showing a Labour lead, not a close-but-no-banana – I don’t see Brown changing his mind anytime soon.

  23. James,

    There is of course the alternative that Brown is in legacy mode.

    He doubts he can win the next election and knows that if he goes early he will look like a coward.

    Therefore what he is trying to salvage is his reputation ( and future career) as a great chancellors of all time and an economic thinker.

    As he seems to be more appreciated and more at home on the world stage, more Davos than downing St, maybe he is already thinking about his own future rather than us.

    What he wants is his reputation restored as much as our economy.

    Gordon; The man who had the longest period of growth in UK history (all be it debt driven and leading to near melt down) and who rescued the world financial system (by doing the only think he could do and what anyone in the same position would have to).

    Peter.

  24. James & Peter, thank you for steering things back onto topic. Far right parties have a tendency towards interventionist or corporatist economic policies, but every time the subject comes up on here it rapidly becomes a silly partisan “the fascists are more like your party” row, so move on.

  25. “As he seems to be more appreciated and more at home on the world stage”

    Was he “appreciated” Peter?
    He certainly said so-but I don’t recall any of his fellow G20 leaders endorsing his view of of his leading roll in their deliberations.

    Today’s remarks by Ken Clark are interesting:-

    “Gordon Brown’s banking package, the one that saved the world, hasn’t worked any more than Hank Paulson’s buying toxic debt has worked. We keep having ‘this is going to save the world’ moments and they’re all useless.”

    Do I detect a change in Press commentary on the upcoming PBR ?-more on the future cost of the Stimulus package than it’s supposed benefit?-lots on the eye-watering borrowing figures to come.?

    As reality dawns on Monday-and Darling is forced, by the G20 declaration,and George Osborn- to declare his view of the length of the recession, how he plans to bring borrowing back to sustainable levels, and post GE tax & public spending forecasts-will the Polls begin to change?

  26. D.Doom 3.58pm.I disagree that the Conservatives will be blamed if they win. Their first act will surely be to publish all data relative to the state of the economy (in the starkest terms) ,so that they will be starting with a clean slate and showing the mountain that has to be climbed. The figures themselves will come (reluctantly) from the Treasury, with a commentary from the Bank of England.

  27. The talking up of the chances of an early election could be a double-edged sword.

    If Labour pull back a second time, then you can imagine the media line – “Brown’s bottled it a second time”

    I can’t think of anything that would be more effective at destroying the remainder of Brown’s reputation.

  28. Evening – this running on PA tonight:

    “The Tories are clinging on to their double-digit lead over Labour, according to a poll published tonight.

    The ICM survey for the Sunday Mirror found the Conservatives still 11 points ahead of Labour – suggesting talk of a 2009 general election may be premature….”

    “It put the Conservatives on 42% (down one since last month), Labour on 31% (up one) and the Liberal Democrats on 19% (up one).”

  29. Polly Toynbee thinks this is the end for for the Tories! She says in her latest article that the Tories have ‘blown it’, ‘gone back to 1981’ and, totop it off, ‘joined the dark side’.

  30. I don’t know much about BNP policies, and don’t want to. My impression is that the BNP attracts people with particular attitudes, which I don’t share, to politics and life (this is also true of other parties) rather than people who choose a party on the basis of rational policy analysis. Nor do I think it fair to parallel socialist parties with pre-war National Socialism, or indeed Stalinism.

    However, there is a danger that objections that comparisons constitute mud-slinging or even libel will prevent sensible debate from which real lessons can be learned.

    In the case of 1930s Germany, Hitler regenerated the economy by debt financed spending, under the guidance of Schacht., who was generally recognised as technically one of the most astute financial policy makers of the time, probably only second to Keynes. Schacht in the end fell out with Hitler, was imprisoned in a concentration camp and found not guilty of war crimes at Nuremburg. Of course, Hitler spent the money on armaments. The exercise turned into a trap because Hitler needed to spend more and more on arms to prevent economic recession, which forced him (apart from his appalling ideology) into War, and specifically into territorial agression as a result of which he acquired additional resources (such as the Skoda works in Czechoslovakia). Indeed in 1939 the French and Germans hoped they might win because of German economic collapse, and therefore that they did not need to attack militarily.

    What Brown is doing is both like and unlike 1930s Germany. It is, thank goodness, different in that he is proposing to incur debt for consumer spending rather than additional expenditure on aramaments. But it is like Germany in that he is going into debt for current expenditure (albeit on tax cuts to generate spending rather than weapons purchase), rather than captial investment, e.g. on the power stations and new railways the United Kingdom desperately needs at the moment. Brown claims that the loans he is raising will be repaid by increasing taxation when the economy has recovered. But inter-war German history suggests he may be initiating a feedback loop whereby the UK will need to borrow more and more to prevent depression and/or, of particular relevance to this site, political discontent.

    I think it is an open question whether the adverse political and economic consequences of the current financial crisis, and of attempts to deal with it, will start to become apparent by 2010, but I believe they will be a huge problem by 2015 as things stand. And if we are not careful they could result in extremism. Further, LUKW, I have already posted on this site pointing out that serious economic crisis is what kills political parties. If the Tories lose in 2010 with seriously deficient economic policies, Polly Toynbee is right: it could be the end for them. The same goes for Labour too.

    In my view the bottom line is that if we want long-term stability in UK voting behaviour the Government must be induced to raise money to start major capital programmes as soon as possible. There are short-term economic advantages in trying to kickstart the economy with consumer expenditure, but the overwhelming danger is that such short-termisn will make it impossible to raise subsequent loans that will enable essential investment. If, for instance, there are everyday cuts in electricity supply in the late 2010s people aren’t likely going to vote for the party or parties responsible for a very long time.

  31. There is another argument against an early election. Where would Brown get the money with which to fight a campaign next year? Labour are in the worst financial position of the three biggest parties by some distance, and I don’t believe most people will be considering donations to political parties while most of us are battening down the hatches for the coming storm.

  32. Interesting point GB, but I think personally Gordon is focused on the job in hand and is expecting a 2010 election, and anything else is just media talk.

  33. Gordon Brown enjoys being PM so there is no chance he is going to give that role up before he has to, hence a 2010 GE.

    We are working class in this household and I can assure everyone that all 5 of us cannot wait for NuLabour to be soundly thrashed at the next GE.

    I notice some of you who say the Conservatives favout the rich, but surely without rich people we would have no jobs to go to.

    There are many many reasons why NuLabour WILL lose the next GE, the economy is just one.

    We in this household all intend to vote Conservative to bring sanity and pride back to our Country.

  34. Interesting that although the recent Com Res poll gave Labour their best (relative) position for ages, with Labour within spitting distance of retaining power, it does not appear to have reignited talk of an early election.

    Could that be down to caution by Brown, ruling out an early election, or amongst pollsters awaiting further evidence ?

  35. A remarkably thin Queen’s Speech is traditionally a hint that the Government is contemplating an early – presumably May/June – General Election. Of course, it could be that the Government was too pre-occupied with economic matters to prepare other legislation.

    One matter should be of particular if there is a 2009 election. It is bad enough, in my view very bad, having General and local elections all on the same day. It would be absolutely appalling having three elections, local, general and European. It would be a recipe for chaos and spoilt votes, particularly given the large number of postal votes (regular readers will know this is another of my psephological complaints): there is no friendly polling officer present to see that the voter does not put papers in the wrong envelope. One result is that voting may be all over the place, not least because ordinary electors are unable to diesentangle the many issues that should really be debated.

    Ad hoc introduction of American-style multiple office voting could be used by opposition parties at the election to remind voters of issues that might otherwise have gone away about how Labour treated democracy during the parliament. We comment on this site on ongoing points, but the actual results of the next election will as always be affected by matters that capture public attention during the campaign (these days, providing they are raised close to the first real pollling day, the one on which postal ballot papers drop on the doormats).

  36. Having been sceptical of Brown going before 2010, I now think he may be planning for a general election on 4th June 2009 (to coincide with County Council and Euro elections).

    Apart from the obvious clearing of the legislative decks, Brown appears to be hoping that the economy will have started to turn – and June would allow a reckless giveaway budget to hit pay packets before the PSBR figures begin to show up optimism of his forecasts.

    Also, I notice that he is planning to bring troops home from Iraq before June – lancing the Iraq war boil once and for all.

    Finally, we should not ignore the fact that Labour are practically bankrupt, so combining three elections into one is financially attractive.

    If he does not go in June, then he would need to wait until October, and possibly be forced into 2010 – especially if the County / Euro elections prove a disaster.

    There is an outside chance of Brown opting for March/April 2009, but he would ned to have seen several months of good polls before taking teh risk. May is not really an option having ordered the County Councils be deferred from the original date.

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