Saturday, 6 October 2007

View from the (Top) of the Hill....

On a day when England surprised the rugby world by beating Australia in the World Cup Quarter-Finals, a less surprising announcement has been the decision by Prime Minister Gordon Brown NOT to call a General Election for either this year or next.

After what was undoubtedly a successful week for the Conservatives at Blackpool (though I think after an exceptional start, the momentum wasn't really maintained), the Sunday polls are showing an apparent resurgence in Tory fortunes. A poll from 83 marginal seats (49 Labour held and 34 Conservative held) indicates a 6% Conservative lead though the detail suggests the Labour vote little changed since 2005 and the Conservative increase coming from former LD supporters (tactical unwind) and others while other polls yet to be published will probably show either much-reduced Labour leads or even small Conservative leads.

Gordon Brown has decided the polls aren't right and therefore the time isn't right so no election. I'm puzzled as to why an election has seemingly been ruled out for next year too - that leaves 2009 or the first half of 2010. There was no need for Brown to rule out 2008 - for me, that is a tactical error.

I came back from the US to find sites like awash with election fever but that didn't really resonate with the wider public. The Tories may now be clamouring for an election but the public generally aren't.

So what now ? For the Conservatives, the prospect of a humiliating election defeat has receded for now but key policies like the abolition of IHT and stamp duty for first-time buyers have been revealed and Labour now have two years to either copy them or rubbish them.

For the Lib Dems too, there will be relief that an election isn't happening. The Party has problems but Menzies Campbell was excellent on Question Time last Thursday and time may well work to his party's advantage.

For Gordon Brown, there will be some uncomfortable days ahead with unfair comparisons to Jim Callaghan but he is still Prime Minister and now has eighteen months to put Labour in an election-winning position. It won't be easy - events as yet unforeseen may conspire to undermine the Government (or the Opposition). There are signs perhaps that interest rates will fall and that will help while I strongly suspect the 2008 Budget will have something to say about IHT levels.

For now, the Conservative blogsphere is jubilant. More thoughtful observers may wonder what the future will bring.

A final word on the performance of the blogsphere in the past two or three days. For me, Ben Brogan, with whom I disagree politically, has called this superbly. I've also been sceptical of the election fever too. As for Gordon Brown, he could have closed this down last week but probably underestimated what the Tories would come up with at Blackpool. He thought they would not dent HIS post-conference bounce but they came up with one of their own. It will be a hard act to follow.

The activists can always march up the hill again - after all, that's what they do.

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