So what would you do if you were Gordon?

by Stephen Tall on October 4, 2007

100 days in power, and the toughest decision yet faces the Prime Minister: does he seek a mandate, or does he delay calling an election?

A week ago, the decision looked a formality. Labour was riding high in the polls on the back of their ‘nobody mention the Blairs’ party conference, and a couple of polls suggesting double-digit leads over the Tories. Spool forward, and it’s all looking a lot less rosy, with a slew of polls indicating a narrowing of Labour’s lead.

If there’s one thing more stupid than taking too much notice of opinion polls, it’s taking no notice of them. You can bet the last penny in your Northern Rock account that Mr Brown and his advisors will be poring over every single psephological detail.

If – and it remains a big if – Mr Brown decides it’s too risky, and rules out a November election, he leaves a wide open door for the Lib Dems and the Tories: the carefully cultured image of a strong Prime Minister in complete control of events will be impossible to maintain after weeks of dithering culminating in a conclusion that he’s not popular enough to win, even with the following wind of a 100-day honeymoon.

It’s not only his prestige with the public and the media which will take a knocking – so too will his credibility among the party faithful, who have so far shown themselves to be devotedly in thrall to Mr Brown. He’ll have marched them up to the top of the hill, only for them to discover he forgot to mention there’s another peak beyond. Pretty demoralising stuff. The Labour party has trusted their leader to know exactly what he’s doing. That Mr Brown’s now boxed himself into a corner suggests he’s not the political genius too many people have assumed on the basis of not much evidence.

Of course, he may well still call an election for November. Until now, I’ve thought Labour would be sure-fire winners of such a snap poll. Not any more. Mr Brown is obsessed, it seems, with trying to understand the British psyche – in which case he should appreciate the very real possibility that the public could react in a ‘bloody sod yer then’ way to any cynical attempt to bounce them into casting their votes before they’re good and ready.

If there’s one lesson of the last three weeks’ opinion polls it is that the public has still to make up its mind about any of the parties, and wants to see all their leaders properly tested in the coming months. Force-feeding voters a diet of under-cooked policies in a rushed general election will just give everyone indigestion.