Monday, 8 October 2007

Is Brown a "battler" or a "bottler" ?

This morning's headlines must have made grim reading at 10 Downing Street. The Conservative media and blogsphere has had a field day over Gordon Brown's decision NOT to call a General Election. Charges of weakness and indecision from David Cameron are at the weaker end of a Tory reaction which as included the word "coward".

This is of course quite absurd and nonsensical. Indeed, it may well be that in six months Gordon Brown may look back on this weekend's decision as one of his best.

How so ? One key indicator is or are interest rates. Following the Northern Rock crisis and the crisis in investor confiedence, there is no longer any talk of rates going higher. Indeed, there is every prospect of further falls. The Budget will also give Alastair Darling a chance to counter George Osborne's pledges on stamp duty and IHT.

The Conservatives believe Brown is fatally weakened and that both his character and judgement have been called into question which is strange considering the very same charges were being levelled at David Cameron just three months ago. An uneventful winter will wipe the slate clean for Gordon Brown and with that intangible called "luck", he may yet be in a strong position come next spring. The 2008 local elections will be the next major barometer of opinion. The Conservatives will need to build on the momentum of this year's results otherwise the Labour bandwagon may also start to recover.

What of the Lib Dems ? Back in 1990, the party was regularly polling in the range 4-6% and faced oblivion. In 1992, the party won 16.8% of the vote which although a setback in terms of seats was much better than had seemed likely. Those who seek to write the party and its leader off do so at their peril. Sir Menzies Campbell impressed many with his performance on "Question Time" last week (apart from Tory bloggers like Iain Dale) and remains far more of an asset than is generally regarded. In a campaign led by the dour Gordon and the vacuous Dave, Sir Menzies stands to prosper.

As for the electorate, I remain convinced there is no real appetite for a Conservative Government. Indeed, the strongest Tory message at present is that they are "not Labour" which is hardly a ringing endorsement. Governments change when the ruling party is seen to be politically bankrupt (1964,1997) or is presiding over social and economic collapse (1974,1979). It's hard to argue the latter and even the former seems uncertain. The Tories still have much to do to win.

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