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Will he, won't he?

Brian Taylor | 16:03 UK time, Monday, 1 October 2007

So what do you reckon? Should there be a snap General Election or not?

As a source of innocent merriment, I have posed that question to sundry folk at the party conferences, Labour last week, Conservative this.

At Bournemouth, the Labour answers were universally predicated on party advantage. Would we win? Would we win big? Could we gain revenge on the SNP for May?

Yes, they had considered factors such as the weather, the dark nights, the unnecessarily early timing, possible apathy, possible voter antagonism - but only in terms of the impact upon their own party, not as issues of distinct substance.

In truth, I wasn’t surprised. In a democratic system, it is healthy - and inevitable - that politicians will calculate the potential impact on their own party’s chances of success. It is a vital check.

However, it was just a mite depressing that every single interlocutor gave a partisan reply to a neutral question.

I hadn’t asked about the impact upon Labour. I had asked in general terms about the rights and wrongs of such a step.

An early election is, strictly speaking, unnecessary. The Government has a substantial majority. There has not been a confidence vote defeat. There is no great, unsolved question to go before the people. Gordon Brown is not a president requiring a personal mandate - he can govern according to the mandate given in 2005 to his party’s manifesto.

However, politics is about momentum rather than pure constitutional theory.

Those facing election will, understandably, ask: "What does this mean for me?"

The rest of us can decide for ourselves whether it feels right, at this point in the political cycle, that Britain’s new prime minister should subject himself to our verdict.

Consequently, I wouldn’t use the phrase deployed by Sir Malcolm Rifkind at a Conservative conference fringe meeting today.

He said an election just two years on from the last such contest was “a constitutional outrage”.

Indeed, he suggested - with a broad grin - that if/when Gordon Brown goes to Buckingham Palace, the Queen should refuse his request to dissolve Parliament.

Grinning still more broadly, Sir Malcolm added: “It might well be the end of the Monarchy - but what a way to go!”

However, Sir Malcolm’s is not the most commonly expressed view here in Blackpool.

Instead of indignation and drollery, most Tories here feel themselves obliged to offer bold bravado. Bring it on. Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.

Also on the fringe, Annabel Goldie challenged Mr Brown to “stop footering” - and call the election instantly.

Do they mean it? Well, some do. But a fair number here in Blackpool suspect that their party’s policy portfolio isn’t yet quite in a shape to endure sustained exposure to voter scrutiny.

Philip Hammond, who shadows the chief secretary to the treasury, said he and his colleagues were carefully studying the report from their economic policy group, adding in a wry aside that they might well have to accelerate the process if an election is called.

Because of course, just as with Labour, the real consideration for the Tories here in Blackpool is - what would an early election mean for the party?


  • 1.
  • At 04:58 PM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • Ross wrote:

I think GB should hold an election as many SNP candidates will be returned to westminister.

The protests today underlined to me what a disgrace this government is. "we are allowed WMD, but iran and others are not and we will illegally invade iraq to make sure they dont" its pathetic, lets give Labour what they deserve, another good hiding in the polls ala May 2007


  • 2.
  • At 05:34 PM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • Irving Parry wrote:

Gordon Brown dare not call a snap Election; not now that he has put a further 2p tax on a litre of petrol, with another tax to follow next April. If he went to the Country, he would be facing political suicide; although from his point of view, he would wonder what all the fuss was about. After all it is only one more small tax on top of the 80 or so he has imposed since 1997.

  • 3.
  • At 06:26 PM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • Ed Martin wrote:

I was listening to the bloke from the Electoral Commission on the Politics Show yesterday and according to him, the system at present is in such disarray that an election anytime soon would be a disaster. He was horrified at the very idea. Surely such considerations would be of first importance to big Broon and his 'election supremo' wee Dougie if they had REALLY intended to have an Autumn election.
But if it was a ruse, such a cynical 'winding up' exercise might just may backfire when he draws back and all of his opponents shout 'chicken.'

  • 4.
  • At 06:42 PM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • Craig wrote:

Lets hope Gordon Brown brushes aside the advice of Scottish Labour and hold elections soon.The people of Scotland have not forgotten how Labour fought the May election.

Scottish Labour played the fear card hoping to cause consternation and trepidation,but when the counting was over this of course turned out to be rather embarrassing for the London based partisan hierarchy of so called Scottish Labour.

If I may I wish to close with an old Scottish saying that perhaps the Alexander family should heed.

They That Dance Must Pay The Fiddler.

  • 5.
  • At 08:11 PM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • PMK wrote:

Brown will look weak and indecisive if he doesn't call an election soon after all this. Smart money is supposed to be on either November 1st or 8th - I dont know, but would welcome any opportunity to show Gordon that I know fine well he is just Tony Blair repackaged and spinning that "spin is over".

  • 6.
  • At 11:04 PM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • gw wrote:

Considering the postal dispute is not yet settled, an early election could be a major gamble - imagine the chaos if a postal strike were called to coincide with delivery of ballot papers for the large number with postal votes!!!

  • 7.
  • At 01:07 AM on 02 Oct 2007,
  • Sandra wrote:

It would be stupid to call an election now after all the chaos in May is still under scrutiny and has not been resolved; the Returning Officers know it would be a disaster as do the Electoral Commission and there is still that question of cash for honours floating about! (Just where have they raised the cash from as they appeared to be skint a while back) The question of the tax on fuel today will not go down too well either. A straw poll in this area, saw disgust that they are even thinking about it at this time of year with rather surprisingly, a lot saying that a fixed term for a Parliament would be a good idea and a lot would like to give G Brown and co a shock, but feel the alternative is even worse. A case of the fools you know? And as gw points out - postal dispute?
Ans I thought that G Brown was prudence itself!

  • 8.
  • At 08:59 AM on 02 Oct 2007,
  • kenneth wrote:

When we talk about an SNP victory, it is also worth remembering that while they got more votes, and more seats, Labour actually got 37 first past the post seats, to the SNPs 21. Much of the SNP gains came from the SSP losing 6% of the vote, so even at an election where Labour were at their worst for 50 years, they can still be a danger in Scotland, and for all the talk of Britishness, Broon would make sure he wasn't humiliated at home.

  • 9.
  • At 09:38 AM on 02 Oct 2007,
  • Peter, Fife wrote:

While Gordon Brown may well have to factor in the Scottish Dimension it seems that the Conservatives have chosen to factor out their Scottish party and leaders; David Mundell and Annabel Goldie were relegated to a 30 minute question and answer session, a move away from the customary speech to conference; organisers blamed the PA system which had seemed to work adequately one hour earlier for the speech of William Hague, the Conservative warm up man.

David Cameron has not given up on all Scottish Conservatives he seemingly still has time for Malcolm Rifkind, the MP for Kensington and Chelsea who was hounded out of Edinburgh Pentlands, the Conservative’s safest seat in Scotland.
“…Grinning still more broadly, Sir Malcolm added: “It might well be the end of the Monarchy - but what a way to go!”…” was he referring to the Rosyth jobs he sold to Devonport to buy Conservative votes in the South West of England, another failed Conservative calculation?

The Conservative ploy is simple, even school-boyish in its concept, challenge Gordon Brown to call a General Election, if he does they will claim they are leading the agenda, if he doesn’t they will claim he is fearful of their leader, party and their policies; the weakness in such a policy is that politics and running the UK is ever so slightly more complex than a playground wheeze.

The party who claimed they would not return to the failed politics of tax cuts, immigration and self interest have done just that, albeit that the tax cuts are not tax cuts but are merely designed to rob Pedro to pay Paul; there will be no reduction in the overall tax burden in fact it most likely will increase the Exchequer’s take, truly a stealth tax.
This of course only if the figures produced by George Osborne add up; most ‘policies’ produced by the Conservatives have failed through poor research; a challenge wich is levied against this £1 million inheritance tax threshold, which is reported to be incorrect by 64.5% or £2 billion pounds.

With the majority of sitting Scottish MPs having factored in the value that their new Scottish leader Wendy Alexander brings, which it must be said seems a negative value, are calling for their leader to hold fire, will Gordon risk calling an election against their advice?
If he does it will only be after he has seen the full details of David Cameron’s battle plan; David Cameron who was bereft of policy must now convert rapidly the thoughts of his think tanks into policy, thoughts of advisors such as John Selwyn Gummer, burger anyone?

  • 10.
  • At 11:05 AM on 02 Oct 2007,
  • Scott wrote:

Firstly, in response to the first comment, can I point out in May that the SNP relied on the regional seats to secure their win, whereas Labour still held onto the (albeit reduced) majority of constituency seats. And, studies have shown since the introduction of devolution, that the Scottish people vote differently for the two parliaments . Opinion polls in May this year showed that a substantial number of SNP voters would have voted differently had the election been for Westminster. I refer to a YouGov opinion poll, but you will find articles on the matter by Denver, Curtice and Keating if you look hard enough.

As for the rest of your comment, I doubt there's even a real need to reply.

Personally as far as I'm concerned there's no real need for an election, as Brian pointed out with regards to the constitutional arrangement of the UK. We shouldn't vote on the basis of who we want the PM to be. If he calls an election, I can see it being a rather poor turnout. I wonder what will happen to Cameron if his party fails to make substantial gains? And old Ming could soon be out of a job, if the opinion poll standings of his party are anything to go by.

  • 11.
  • At 12:59 PM on 02 Oct 2007,
  • Hugh wrote:

Although they didn't get more seats, the SNP did get more FPTP votes in May.

Given that the SNP’s prospects have only gotten better since the election, I don't think it's surprising that Scottish Labour are not as buoyant as their English colleagues.

It is highly probable that Brown would win down south, but you'd have to be a real daredevil to put money on similar success in the north.

It's not only his position Brown is risking if he goes to the polls - it's his seat up north.

A risk that might pay off... but the consequences would be a bleak prospect for Labour.

  • 12.
  • At 09:29 PM on 02 Oct 2007,
  • Man o' Moray wrote:

The big risk for Gordon Brown is that next year the economy goes topsy-turvy (as some analysts predict). As the man that controlled Britain's ecomomy for the past decade, he will get the blame should things go badly. Holding an election now would give him five years to ride out the storm, should he win.

As for him representing "change", it is just a another volley of spin from a man who has been at the heart of the government's policy making for ten years.

  • 13.
  • At 11:59 AM on 07 Oct 2007,
  • Peter Forsyth wrote:

Gordon Brown has shown his true colours, he cares only about himself and to watch "his people" defend the decision not to go to the polls has been laughable. They really do believe we are all stupid, what now for the Labour party in Scotland now that Brown has lost the repect of the country? Not that i ever did even like never mind respect the man.

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