Monday, 8 October 2007

The Tories have two things they didn't have two weeks ago...

Well what was that all about? One minute Gordon Brown can do no wrong, has an eleven point lead in the polls and David Cameron’s whole leadership is under threat. Then Brown made the biggest tactical mistake he is likely to make in remainder of his premiership. I always felt that Brown should have said going in to the party conference that there will be no election this year. When he didn’t, he lost control of the situation – it was as good as saying it’s on. In fact, it was on. Everything was in place for a November 1st poll, but what Brown didn’t think would happen is a Tory surge. Gordon Brown, however, single handedly created that surge for the Tories.

If Brown had said no November poll the Tories wouldn’t have needed to unite. Cameron wouldn’t have needed to make such an impassioned speech. George Osbourne would now not be the darling of the media. Instead he showed indecision. He had to go in November but realised that he would now, at best, come out with a majority in the region of 20 seats. The man bottled it. It has changed the electorate’s perception of him irreversibly. Not only that, but now he probably can’t even go for his preferred spring poll next year. This means that between now and 2009 Brown has to hope that the Tories do not cement their position in the polls; he has to hope that the economy stays afloat and he has to hope he can keep the so far very quiet non-Brownites in the party down. There is nothing new Labour likes more than re-election and God help Brown if he becomes a liability in the eyes of the Blarites.

If Brown had gone to the polls now he would have won, make no mistake. If Brown had said no election now in the first place he could have gone next year and he would have won then too – and probably won big. Instead, the man who doesn’t like to take a risk may have gambled away his chances by keeping quiet. He is now relying on what Rumsfeld would call the known unknowns and, even worse, the unknown unknowns. That is to say (and to coin another phrase) events dear boy, events – the thing that will worry a PM the most. If two weeks is a long time in politics, two years is an absolute age – there is time now for a number of events.

To make matters worse, Brown has come out with a load of rubbish that Cameron has rightly pointed out as treating the rest of us like fools. To try and claim he wanted to wait to set out his vision for the future does not wash. If that is true, why did you not say no election in the first place?! Brown’s honeymoon is over and his image of no spin and iron leader if destroyed. Brown has somehow got himself in to a fight.

This episode will pass but Brown will from this moment on be synonymous with being a bottler and of showing poor judgment. You can guarantee Blair would not have got himself in to this situation. He could have finished Cameron off if he had played this better, instead he has kept him in the game. The Tories have a massive task if they are to win an election within the next two years – not least taking away some of the Labour vote which, despite the poll surge for the Tories, has remained reasonably solid in the high 30s and low 40s. However, they do now have two things they didn’t have just two weeks ago – hope and a real chance and it has been given to them by Brown on a plate.

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