That Brown is a poor Prime Minister is amply demonstrated by his highly irresponsible and damaging behaviour in allowing perfervid speculation to intensify unabated concerning a possible General Election this autumn. Some see this as masterful politicking designed to keep opponents off-balance, whilst others mark it out as gutless dithering.

It is damaging because whilst it goes on none involved in the business of government, administration and politics can get on with their job. Ministers are distracted by the exigencies of sorting out their department’s policies that will form part of any Labour Election manifesto and their civil servants are bound to be spending time on looking at Conservative policies and how they might be implemented lest the present shower implodes and is swept from office.

Now, if there really is going to be an election, fair enough: these are all things which it is appropriate for those people to do. But if this is all sham and spin, then it is disgraceful that important issues such as Iraq and Afghanistan where our soldiers risk and suffer death every day, should be neglected. We have just had the first run on a Bank in one hundred and fifty years against a backdrop of seriously alarming events in the banking and mortgage sector which have required some unprecedented injections of money into the Banking System, events which may not yet have run their course (though it would serve Macavity right if the Banking Crisis re-emerged during an election campaign); the rural community remains beset with foot and mouth disease and the newly-arrived bluetongue, the pensions ruined by Brown remain ruined as Brown struts (if that is the right word) his stuff at the seaside.

So plenty to be going on with, yet his ministers, some of whom are part-timers such as Des Browne, Minister of Defence who is supposed to be overseeing not one but two wars, and Des Browne, who is supposed to be overseeing the campaign against the break up of the Union, are all running round in campaign mode. All this in a Parliament where Brown has a secure majority and which has run less than one-half of its lawful course; a Parliament which his predecessor said he would serve for a ‘full term’ (what a whopper that turned out to be) which thus far Brown has not disavowed.

Actually I remain in need of considerable suasion that he is going to do it although I accept all the signs are that he may. Having waited thirteen years to have his chance to play with our lives, is he really going to risk being one of the briefest holders of the office of Prime Minister ever (even less than the late Sir Alec Douglas Home, which would be an embarrassment!) in modern times?

Of course, he may not think it a risk and that he and his fellow Socialists are going to romp home ahead of a broken Tory Party by a country mile. In which case I have got this terribly wrong. Yet there will be things which are gnawing away at his vitals, such as the report (here) by the Labour Party’s Voice (the BBC) which seems to have been missed by the papers this morning: the BBC interviewed 31 of Labour’s 40 MPs, presumably excluding the PM himself, to discover that a clear majority of them who responded (19 out of 29) did not want an election this autumn, one of them, Jim Devine, citing his memories of the last late autumn election, that of October 1974 as reason to wait:

“I remember the last October election in 1974. It is cold, it is dark, we are liable to have a foot of snow from Aberdeen to Aberystwyth. This is not the time for an election.

“What’s the rush? We only had an election two years ago. I think he should wait at least until next May.”

Of the climate and the season more in a moment.

I have several times argued here that Scotland may, as it so often does when Labour is at its cynical worst when weighing up the interests of the nation as a whole, play a disproportionate part in the thinking about an election. Labour remains in a shell-shocked condition there and has only just seen a new leader of the party at Holyrood installed. Wendy Alexander, sister of Wee Dougie and Brown Cronyette, has yet to get her feet well and truly under the table and has scarcely shined in her public utterances so far. Labour still has not yet adapted itself to its first dose of opposition in Scotland since the 1950s and is faced with a rampant SNP which has stepped up smartly to seize the levers of Scottish power, so that Scottish Labour can no longer plausibly offer its usual bribes to the Scottish Electorate (it lacking the power to carry that into execution). In addition most recent polls have shown the SNP still benefiting from the effects of their dramatic win in May. If Brown calls an election and sees ten or a dozen Labour seats pass into the hands of the SNP, that would be seen as a disaster and call his judgement into question and given the importance of the Labour block vote provided by their 40 MPs to Labour’s ability to govern the country, it is hard to see him risking a humiliation north of the border.

Another little fly has just flown into the ointment in the form of some local authority by-elections in which Labour has, notwithstanding the polls, nowhere near as well as those polls suggest they should have done. Whilst local elections are always subject to the vagaries of low turnouts, losing a seat in Sunderland when national polls suggest that Labour ought to have held it triumphantly will cause them to wonder if the polls are overstating their position. In addition the Tories have held onto control in Cheshire which will also be seen as odd if Labour is doing as well in the polls as it is said. Further results in Portsmouth and Corby will also have worried labour, for both indicated that the Tories might well take them at a general election. All these results are real votes not polls and to a coward like Brown grist to the mill of prevarication.

Then there is the weather and the time of year to be considered. The last autumn election was in October 1974, hardly a good augury for Labour with its memories of one of the worst Governments in our history which ended with it having to be given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation by the Liberals (Ming Campbell will remember that as he was a candidate in 1974) who propped it up until the rank smell of putrefaction became too much for even them to bear and defeat at the hands of Parliament in February 1979 after the winter of discontent. Winter beckons and the evenings have drawn in such that people come home from work in the dark and feel little inclination to go out once more to vote. At such times it is thought that Labour’s voters are much harder to get out to vote than the Tories and if we were to have an early patch of real winter weather it could have a serious effect.

Spring elections seem to work best. People are inevitably more optimistic coming out of winter, with the sun on their backs and lengthening evenings. A stroll to the polling booth with the dog in warm sunshine becomes an altogether less appealing prospect on a cold wet dark late October or early November evening. Besides, given that we only had an election just over two years ago

What about the Liberal ‘Democrats’? They remain in the doldrums and their conference, if it did anything to improve Campbell’s situation, will have long faded from the memory if there is an election. Their polls have been consistently poor over the summer and some have pushed them down into the low teens which, if replicated at an election, is wipe out territory for them (though having only six or seven MPs will certainly improve their carbon footprint at their next conference!): does Brown want to destroy his allies on the Left and hand many of their seats over to the Conservatives, giving them a much-improved platform for the next election after this?

Finally, there is the little matter of the political issue of a referendum over the EU Constitution. Right in the middle of any election campaign Brown and the Unctuous Little Squirt Milliband will have to go off to Lisbon there to sign away UK independence once more or do a stunning U-Turn and announce that we can have our say after all (with all the damage to his standing that implies). Neither of these scenarios is likely to play well in the country. Europe is likely to become a central issue in the campaign with Brown’s position, being seen as utterly dishonourable and mendacious, sharply denting his well-burnished halo. Instead of being able to talk about health and education, he will find himself bogged down in argument about the EU which he is plainly keen to avoid like the plague.

So I still doubt an election just now, which, in time honoured fashion, is a sure sign one will be announced this weekend….

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