Monday, 1 October 2007

View From The Top of the Hill...

Well, it's certainly been an interesting couple of weeks in British politics and with the Conservative Conference this week in Blackpool, the excitement shows no sign of letting up.

Conference Season is a strange time for the politically active. If you are lucky enough to be attending one of the seaside shindigs, then it's wall-to-wall debate, discussion, intrigue and gossip from 9am till midnight and often long after. If you can't attend because you have a life, you try and make sense of speeches, analysis and bloggers desperate to spin their side of everything.

Tonight, the Tory blogsphere is out in force hailing the Osborne speech and its proposals as a vote-winner (which it probably is) while Labour bloggers claim the sums don't add up (which they probably don't). What has transformed the Shadow Chancellor's speech from the routine is the outbreak of election fever which has hit the political blogsphere while I was playing the tables in Vegas.

Bloggers such as James Burdett have already formulated their analyses - long on spin and partisan rhetoric but not without some attention to detail either. The problem is - Gordon Brown hasn't fired the starting gun yet - he may not until 2010 and there's no way the world can keep this pace of febrile excitement until then...

Recent polls have been volatile with Lib Dem support numbers oscillating between 12 and 20% while Labour swing from high-30s to 44%. The Tories remain more stable in the 31-34% range.

On most recent polls, Labour would win an election comfortably possibly with a landslide majority of over 100 seats. Such a result would be terminal for David Cameron though not for the Conservative Party which survived the routs of 1906, 1945, 1966, 1997 and 2001. Gordon Brown would be safe until 2011 or 2012 and the world could be a very different place then.

So, should he go for it ? He doesn't have to of course - nonsense about him "not having a mandate" can be ignored. Labour has a Parliamentary majority of over 60 which makes life pretty comfortable and Brown doesn't have to call an election until the summer of 2010. Previous short-term Governments have been those elected on very small majorities (or no majority at all) such as 1964 and Feb 1974 which went to the country to secure an improved mandate.

There are those who argue that defeat now would spell "the end" of the Conservative Party. This too is nonsense - Cameron might go if the defeat were catastrophic (more than 100 Labour majority) but he probably wouldn't voluntarily though he might face a challenge. After all, Neil Kinnock presided over a landslide defeat for Labour in 1987 and survived. Both William Hague and Michael Howard chose to stand down after electoral defeat.

The risk for Brown is less that the Conservatives win an overall majority - statistically unlikely but that Labour loses its majority or that the majority is slashed to single figures which would make life much harder and, as with John Major in 1992, create an ongoing sense of collapse which becomes self-fulfilling.

The activists may feel they have been marched to the top of the hill but that doesn't matter - they will march again. The country seems ambivalent about an election and so do I. I strongly suspect the volatile polls will make much better reading for the Tories at the end of the week - I wouldn't be surprised to see one or two showing a small Tory lead.

None of that matters - under the British system, the Prime Minister calls the election within the term of his or her mandate. Whatever David Cameron and the Tory bloggers might want matters not a jot.

My uninformed guess - no election this year. MY other guess is that this week is far from over and that Brown may yet have a scene-stealing card or two to play.

For the young and naive Tory bloggers, today has been a good day. As for tomorrow, who knows ?

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