Thereâ€™ll Be No Election This Year
Apart from a brief wobble last week, I have always been sceptical about the prospects for an Autumn election. I shall now stick my neck out, and say there will be no election this year.
There is no point in Gordon Brown calling an early election unless he can, at the very least, be sure of retaining Labourâ€™s majority of 64. Should Labour be returned with a smaller majority, his authority will be weakened. If their majority were to fall to 30 or less, then Gordon Brownâ€™s authority would probably evaporate, and he would be a lame duck Prime Minister.
Todayâ€™s opinion polls illustrate what a gamble Gordon Brown would be taking by calling a snap election. They point to a Labour majority of anything from 24 to 80 seats, on a uniform national swing. In all probability however, any Labour majority would be rather less than that, as several Liberal Democrat MPs who took seats off Labour in 2005, could expect to retain them on the basis of their personal vote.
Additionally, even if the Conservative vote share were to slip back slightly, as memories of their successful conference fade, Labour has consistently underperformed its opinion poll rating in every election since 1987.
Even the smallest underperformance by Labour, relative to its poll rating, could see the Governmentâ€™s overall majority wiped out. Adding the risks that the Conservatives might perform especially strongly in London and the South, and that the SNP might gain from Labour in Scotland, it would be an extraordinarily reckless gamble to call an election this year.
Gordon Brown will doubtless suffer some embarrassment if an Autumn election is ruled out. But that would surely be preferable to risking an unnecessary election in which the best he could realistically hope for would be to retain his current majority, and the worst he could anticipate would be to see that majority destroyed. As several people have recently commented in relation to hedge funds, it would be like running on to a motorway to pick up pennies.
Last night, there were four by-election results:-
Hambleton District – Northallerton Broomfield: Conservative unopposed. Conservative hold. Labour won a third of the vote in this ward in May, so itâ€™s surprising they should have let it go unopposed.
Leicestershire County – Shepshed: Labour 1217, Conservative 1074, Lib Dem 933, BNP 807. Labour hold. Labour hold. This was a good result for Labour, as they managed to keep the swing to the Conservatives down to 1.2%. The BNPâ€™s best performance in a Leicestershire County Council seat in 2005 was 11%, so this result (like Mayâ€™s district elections) implies that their support has grown considerably in the County since then.
Windsor and Maidenhead Borough – Datchet: Conservative 799, Lib Dem 352, Ind 102 . A comfortable Conservative hold, but there was a good swing to the Liberal Democrats.
Argyll and Bute Council: Helensburgh and Lonsdale. (1st count) Lib Dem 642, Conservative 627, Independent 493, SNP 356. (Final count) Lib Dem 1,014, Conservative 839. Lib Dem gain from Independent. The Liberal Democrats picked up the lionâ€™s share of transfers, despite a slight swing to the Conservatives among first preferences.
Sean Fear is a London Tory and writes a regular column here