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.

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I think we are still on. It may not be all rosy for Labour,but if the Tories can’t even make it in to the lead after a great week and a lot of coverage, the victory is still Labours.

by welshproudliberal on October 4, 2007 at 9:25 pm. Reply #

To answer the question, I would wait that the effects of the conference season will wear off in order to see a clearer picture of the real support figures, and if I was considerate (which I’m not sure Gordon is), I would call the election at the earliest for December, when the updated electoral register will be ready, so that those who have moved recently would be able to vote.

by Melian on October 4, 2007 at 10:04 pm. Reply #

Early December or late November would be an interesting choice as it would deal with the whingeing from the returning officers.

by Ed on October 4, 2007 at 10:23 pm. Reply #

As if that is going to happen.

If it’s not on the 8th Nov at the very very latest, it won’t happen till spring.

And Melian, do you really think that the imorality of disenfranchising will even cross GBs mind?

by welshproudliberal on October 4, 2007 at 10:46 pm. Reply #

Would you gamble the certainty of three years in power for the possibility of five, when the polls are, to put it politely, volatile?

by nigelashton on October 5, 2007 at 12:25 am. Reply #

Looking at the three polls that have just been published, I would bite the bullet, take the flak, and not call an election. The polls are really volatile.

The choice is: lose face and get back to the business of government – or hold an election that could go badly.

by Stuart on October 5, 2007 at 12:32 am. Reply #

I think that the current polls are as good for Labour as they are likely to be over the next couple of years. If however Brown decides not to call an election it will be important to do something to take the sting out of the reaction. Legislating in the forthcoming parliamentary session for fixed term parliaments thus removing the power to call the election from the PM would be one way of doing that and getting back to the agenda he set for himself when first elected as Labour Leader and then PM.

by derrick chester on October 5, 2007 at 3:37 am. Reply #

Welshproudliberal, if you did read carefully what I wrote, you noticed that I wrote that I’m not so sure that Gordon is so considerate. But I answered what I would do in his shoes, anyway.

by Melian on October 5, 2007 at 5:41 am. Reply #

This might be as good as it gets for the Tories – this year. He probably should call the election. Lots of bad news to come next year.

by Peter Welch on October 5, 2007 at 7:37 am. Reply #

Don’t forget he can still wait another week, which might give him enough time to start having a dig at the Conservatives and gaining some ground back – which will probably happen anyway as the polls settle.

by Letters From A Tory on October 5, 2007 at 8:20 am. Reply #

IMHO a snap poll and a short campaign was always risky because it maximises the chance that Cameron could get throught it with his gloss unscratched. Brown should call it now, but set the date for the absolute latest he can get away with – January, even, if there’s precedent for a campaign that long.

Such a decision would probably cost him a few extra seats to us because we get the chance to run full Rennard-approved campaigns, but on the upside it provides plenty of time for Cameron to self-destruct and his party to start squabbling. And *that* would win him a comfortable majority while also killing off the Tories’ revival for the next five to ten years.

by Andy on October 5, 2007 at 8:58 am. Reply #

Snap polls favour the incumbents and there are more Labour incumbents than anyone else.

Take Richmond Park for example. The Tories are rumoured to have a budget of £300,000 this year. It will be impossible (and illegal) for them to spend this in three weeks. Therefore any spending gap is wiped out.

by Dan on October 5, 2007 at 9:50 am. Reply #

Well I doubted he would call the election anyway.

The voters are entitled to ask him: why can’t we see whether you are any good or not for a year or so first?

by Joe Otten on October 5, 2007 at 10:12 am. Reply #

I thought Ming was good on Question Time last night. Lots of energy and he got a huge applause for his answer on the ‘age’ question… Good on him.

by John on October 5, 2007 at 10:28 am. Reply #

Dan is so right. Also incumbents are known whereas recently selected candidates need time to get publicity. Hardly anybody yet knows the Conservative candidate in Kingston and Surbiton for example.

by Derrick Chester on October 5, 2007 at 10:31 am. Reply #

There’s a danger of people being overcome by hysteria here.

An average 3% poll lead after a week of intensive and unchallenged publicity for the Tories is not a bad result for Labour.

He wont make another mistake like the Iraq visit and he has the weekend to pull some rabbits out of the hat. Labour will have had the timetable planned for months.

The Electoral Commission has already responded exactly how I did to the whingeing from John Turner – “it’s your job to make sure the election runs smoothly so shut up and sort it out.”

And I dont really buy this loss of authority argument if he has a majority of less than 60. A few months ago Labour would have been relieved to LOSE by less than 60.

by Ed on October 5, 2007 at 10:31 am. Reply #

Ed you clearly haven’t got a clue about the scale of chaos that electoral administrators (not just councils but – for example – the poor people with the software) will be in. John Turner has a point. The Electoral Commission are a bunch of clueless incompetents – and that’s a statement I think that carries cross-party support.

by Lurker on October 5, 2007 at 11:55 am. Reply #

This is all interesting stuff – but will going now or delaying it be best for Liberal Democrats?

in my humble opinion if Brown goes now we will get seriously squeezed by both the other two Parties

If that happens it will trigger our own internal crisis !

by totallylibdem on October 5, 2007 at 1:07 pm. Reply #

OK, this is what I would do:

“There has been some talk of an early general election. I will now put an end to this speculation … (dramatic pause) … by introducing legislation for a fixed length parliamentary term.”

by Joe Otten on October 5, 2007 at 3:33 pm. Reply #


And I would back you 100% – so I believe would the vast majority of the public

It makes sense to take this key decision out of the hands of self interested politicians !!!!!

by totallylibdem on October 5, 2007 at 3:55 pm. Reply #

Election talk always creates a breathless air of fantasies and nighmare scenarios, and it diverts attention from the longer-term view.

Brown has made a career of crushing opposition to him and this is no different situation.

So whatever, in his calculation, will do the Conservatives the most damage will be the greatest factor in his decision.

My feeling is that his strategy of fuelling speculation with spin, leaked half-truths and gossip is designed to try to catch others on the hop – so as long as the phoney war threatens to break out into a real election campaign he is likely to hold off from calling it.

Perversely, I think Brown is waiting for the LibDems to strengthen at the conservatives expense before he feels completely confident. However, as long as we don’t abandon our approach of attacking everyone where we see fit we will actually be preventing him from ever feeling completely in control and it might not get any better for him.

He is backing himself into a corner, and for his own future sake he will need to have renewed his mandate.

He must fear his fate will be to last only 4, 5 or 6 years in the job, and he won’t want to suffer unfavourable comparison to Blair as an election loser, especially as Blair waits in the wings ready for a comeback.

by Dissenting voice on October 5, 2007 at 6:05 pm. Reply #

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