Friday, December 22, 2006

Snap election?

There's some speculation about the election of the next Labour leader being a trigger for a snap election.

While there are clear problems with doing that, there could be a scenario where it would really work for Labour - May 3 next year. Before you laugh too long and loud, think about it.

Labour voters are typically lazy ones - they need real incentive to turn out. Tories have stayed at home in recent years while Lib Dems have turned out reliably - hence the exceptional performance of that party in by-elections. However, give Labour voters a general election and they are much more inclined to turn up to the polling station.

Now, May 3 offers the rare coincidence of metropolitan elections in England and Wales, along with assembly elections in Wales and Scotland. The poll figures for the devolved assemblies really don't look good for Labour at the moment and control of the parliaments is genuinely under threat. A general election would be a double-whammy - increasing the turnout of Labour voters and securing control of Wales and Scotland as well as returning a number of Labour councillors in England and Wales.

Another advantage is that it would cause the Tories some grief. Cameron's been criticised for being light on policy and it has been suggested that we are around a year away from seeing any policies unveiled, depending on the outcome of various policy forums, so their manifesto should show signs of being seriously undercooked.

I'd also predict a Brown bounce in the polls. Although recent polling, offering a putative Brown/Cameron contest, has been inconclusive, I'm convinced that the Brown manifesto will offer a number of interesting and inspiring policy directions, with tackling poverty at the heart of it. He's a big Americanist, so I'd watch out for the first 100 days to show some new directions to policy. I think this will revitalise Labour grass roots and we will see an upturn in support and even active membership - providing he can shed the dour image and get the policies across to the electorate. Don't get me wrong - I'm not forecasting a return to the glory days of '97, but I do predict that Labour support will firm up noticeably after the leadership election and enough to see off the Tory revival - such as it is.

A big help would be a reasonably bloodless leadership election - one free of too many recriminations. It seems likely that Brown will not face a serious challenger, with it looking improbable that John McDonnell will secure the necessary PLP nominations to pose a serious threat. Given that Brown looks to be a shoo-in for the top job, I can't see any other big hitter - John Reid, for example - deciding to throw in the towel on their front-bench career in a mindless tilt at a windmill.

Another curious advantage would be that it would keep Blair's promise to serve a full term - nobody said that it was a five-year term. It would also be a mandate for a Brown government - flooring any objections that people had voted for Blair, but got Brown.

One big question is over the money. Antony Little reckons that Labour can't afford it. He's right - the party is the thick end of £3o million in the hole. On the other hand, bear in mind that a snap election would leave little time for buying up poster sites (the last election was signalled months in advance as parties booked their chosen sites) and the costs would piggy-back on the costs of fighting the local and devolved elections. Additionally, there would be the magnificent PR value of having the focus on Gordon for three months prior to him taking the top job as the election runs the course, to the exclusion of the Tories and the Lib Dems. It would be a stretch, but I think that the unions would come through with the short-term extra funding to support the campaign. An election in May would be significantly more affordable than a snap election in the autumn.

Now what about timetabling. If we assume a short campaign, that means that Brown has to be PM and ready to call a snap election at the end of March/beginning of April. The leadership election could be compressed into three months, so it would need to kick off early in the New Year. The final plus point is that it would allow Blair to choose his moment. The closer we get to summer 2007, the more certain becomes the date of departure and the higher the tension becomes. There is the risk that Blair would face a crisis before he resigned and could be portrayed as resigning as a result of that. I've always believed that he wants to go in his own time and not when he's under pressure. What better way of starting the New Year than by announcing his intention to stand down as leader?

Will it happen? I doubt it. Candidates aren't in place (although that could be resolved by the NEC) and it would be a huge risk. But possibly one worth taking.


Praguetory said...

I can understand your rationale. Also a May election would be ahead of electorally negative (for Labour) boundary changes that are causing many difficulties even amongst the higher echelons of Labour (see Blears difficulties with reselection). Getting Brown in should be pretty painless for Labour (once Blair goes) but he won't risk going down in the record books (the shortest term of any PM is 120 days). You are right that the Tories are not ready with policies, but I don't think they would be floundering for long if an election is called early. Cameron's calls for an election is posturing. He knows the odds of Labour calling his bluff are very long. Personally, I'd like to get shot of Labour asap, but strategically I'd like to wait until later in the decade.

PoliticalHack said...

Not necessarily - the bill to change the boundaries is ready to go. I don't think that there are any challenges outstanding since Ed Balls withdrew his, so the bill could go through pretty quickly and the boundaries could be in place. Not to do so would cause further problems