Has Gordon Brown got the guts for an upfront contest or will he hold onto the throne he has waited so long for until the last moment?
A month ago, after Gordon Brown’s coronation as Prime Minister in June 2007, it seemed that the Conservatives were snapping at his heels in the polls and to call an early election would have been political suicide.
Now however, Brown has made ground in the polls after a solid start in office, while David Cameron, the Conservative opposition leader, flags in the face of crumbling party support over education and a humiliating defeat in two by-elections.
A handful of Conservative MPs have even gone so far as to call for a vote of no-confidence in Mr Cameron in an attempt to depose him.
Brown now sees options opening up for him as his solid Cabinet choices, his move away from Blair’s “sofa style” government, and his measured response to the London and Glasgow terror plots pay off.
By law, the next general election must occur by June 2010, but rumours in Labour circles suggest that a call to the polls could happen as early as this autumn.
CAPITALISING ON THE “BROWN BOUNCE” : AUTUMN 2007 ELECTION
Although bookies William Hill gives 2007 as the most unlikely date for a general election (10/1), Brown’s advisers have reportedly been suggesting that capitalising on an early “Brown Bounce” in the opinion polls might best be capitalised on by calling a very quick election in the autumn of this year.
If the polls continue throughout the summer to put Brown three and four per cent ahead of the Conservatives, he might be prepared to listen to them.
Ed Balls, the new Children’s, Schools and Families Secretary, has said he would be ready to fight an election “whenever it comes,” while Ed Miliband is already “actively preparing” an election manifesto for the next Labour campaign.
It looks unlikely though. Labour’s coffers are not overflowing with campaign money, with donors especially hard to attract after the cash-for-honours scandal which is still spreading the muck around Westminster. His close aides also strenuously denied any allegations that a snap-election was in the offing during his inaugural speeches in June.
THE ANNIVERSARY – JUNE 2008
Perhaps more likely would be an election on the anniversary of his coming to power.
Brown picked Douglas Alexander, Transport Secretary to prepare the party for a general election, giving him the task of getting Labour “ready not just to fight, but to win…the next general election.”
Brown now needs time to go out and prove that Labour can offer the modern reform which David Cameron and his Conservatives promise to offer as an alternative to Labour at the next election.
On issues like the NHS, crime and education, he needs to dispel the idea that Cameron means change and Labour doesn’t. An election earlier than 2008 would mean both parties publishing manifestos based on their manifesto promises, rather than Brown using his time in power to achieve tangible results that can be compared against Cameron’s proposed changes.
SETTLING INTO NO. 10 – 2009 ELECTION
It now seems cynical to assume that Brown will rest on his laurels and not test himself against the general public until 2009.
Before his “coronation” in June, popular opinion was that such a breach of our democracy’s values could only be followed up by a long and selfish stint in power from the man who had waited in the shadow of Tony Blair for so long.
Now, the new Brown, politically astute, building on his reputation for economic soundness and left-wing Labour politics, does not seem to fit the type of a No.10 squatter.
Perhaps it is because he realises that if he stays in without an election for too long, his luck will run out. After another year without a test at the ballot box, he could plummet in the polls with the English tiring of his presumptuousness, the Scottish despising his faux “Britishness” and the Conservatives backing up every criticism of the government with the fact that he has waited too long to call the election.
Political commentators may pray for a quick election in autumn with all the drama and excitement that it may bring, but realistically, my money is on 2009 for Brown to bare all in front of the nations voters.