So, the leaked Gould memo
suggests that an early election is being seriously contemplated by Labour. I have to admit that the first reaction I had on hearing this was that it was surely proof that an early election was not
being contemplated - why else would they leak the document? Leaving such cynicism aside for a moment, what would an autumn election be likely to bring, and what impact would the outcome have on British politics?
Two things should be made clear immediately: the boundary changes look likely to hand some 20 additional seats to the Conservatives and whatever the recent bounce Brown has enjoyed in the polls, at every electoral test in London and the South since the last election, Labour has lost votes, usually to the Conservatives (with the exception of Ealing Southall). Brown may well calculate that these disadvantages will be offset by the fact that this is his most propitious time to go to the polls. He has managed to persuade people that he represents a fresh start; he is still unsullied by any new scandals of note and the economy has not collapsed (though he should be eyeing the sub-prime problems with care). In these circumstances he may conclude that things, to coin a phrase, can only get worse.
So, election '07 then. What's going to happen? Defending a lead of 66 in the Commons, Brown has most to lose. Seats in the South look vulnerable, if London's results echo the local elections more will fall there too. Regained strength in the North might off-set this to a degree, but this is likely to be as much at the Liberal Democrats' expense as the Tories - who are not exactly over exposed up there. It is entirely possible that Brown will manage to improve his position, making gains in the South and holding onto the North and Midlands, but it's as well to remember that none of these areas were historically Labour - Brown will have to look not to reinforce his base but to continue to reach out to the Blairite Labour voters - for the sort of market liberalism with a human face that Blair exemplified and Cameron has tried to appropriate.
Look at what Gould says:
The seats we must hold to secure our majority are highly marginal and almost any swing against us would knock them over. To hold a majority we need to keep a three per cent lead over the Tories. This means both gaining from the Liberals and holding our share against the Tories. But there is very little room for manoeuvre.
Brown needs to maintain his current lead until the election - honeymoons are usually of short duration. Going to the country sooner rather than later may be problematic, but it would also be the best way of minimising electoral damage. On the other hand, Brown has both a big majority and three years Parliamentary time - he must surely be cagey of losing these. One thing that hasn't been much noted is how many rebellions Brown has faced already. The 'Usual Suspects' can usually be safely ignored - 66 is enough of a cushion. If that is cut by much Brown may find his room for manoeuvre cut down even more.
Labels: Brown, politics