I am amazed at the number of bloggers who now believe that there will not be an autumn election off the back of Cameron’s speech yesterday. Guido has put out a small sample and most think it is now off. I just can not see how it can possibly be off now – if it is it will be a massive tactical error from Brown. Massive. Yes Brown will look like a chump if his majority is reduced, but not as big a chump if he lets the Tories have even more time to gain ground on them.
Firstly, if he confirms that there will be no election any time soon, that is a big point score for Cameron. Everyone will put it down to Cameron’s speech scaring of the PM. Brown will look weak, Cameron will look strong. Secondly, if Brown waits he will also be lynched for being a bottler from all sides – the only reason he could have possible let the speculation go on this long is because he wanted to see if he could call an election. If he does not he has cowered away and shown a distinct lack of good judgment by not saying earlier that there would be no election.
Whatever the right think, Cameron has not done enough to win a snap election. It is virtually impossible for Cameron to turn things round in a week – albeit a very good week. The temptation for Brown to finish off the Tories for another five years must be very strong. Even more so, if he can inflict a defeat on Cameron now that is bad enough to cause the party to fracture he could finish them off for a lot longer than five years. If the Cameron project fails, the Tories are in for some serious trouble.
Unless Cameron makes big inroads to the 66 majority, the right of the party will be well positioned to say that moving the party away from the right was a mistake and has failed. If the right get their way, Cameron will be dumped and a new leader elected – and it does not need to be a big defeat at the polls to mean Cameron is dumped. The only hope would be Hague and he is neither interested nor would he be free to lead the party. The right, the old right, would reclaim so much ground his hands would be tied. That would spell disaster for the party – it would mean at least one more election loss after this one and then who knows after that.
Brown knows this and he also knows that he needs to kill off any positive moves to the centre that Cameron is making. If he leaves it now for another 6 or 12 months he gives Cameron time to gain even more ground, which I am sure Cameron will do, which may mean he will stay as leader even if they do lose an election in May. Even if Brown loses ground to the Tories in a snap election, he will ride out the storm and criticism – he has five guaranteed years in power and then he says he will step down anyway. If he leaves it another six months, he risks a whole lot more - economic downturn, securing Cameron's position as party leader, sustained media and Tory criticism leading in to an election. And make no mistake, Brown wants to destroy the Tories and this will be his best, possibly only chance.
If Brown doesn’t call an election he is making the biggest strategic mistake of the New Labour project. If the Tories dump Cameron after a Labour election victory, they are making the biggest strategic mistake in their entire history.
POST THOUGHT: The only conditions under which Brown should not call an election is if he is behind in the weekend polls. Whatever his decision, I maintain that if he had just said no election two weeks ago he would not be in this mess.