Could an early election still be on?

Could an early election still be on?

And if so, are the odds worth it?

After the abject failure of the Hoon-Hewitt plot, I commented that Brown would definitely lead Labour into the election and that the election would be on May 6.

My reasoning was that the almost complete lack of support that was evident for Hoon and Hewitt’s position made Brown unassailable: it not only demonstrated Brown’s then current strength but would also so discourage any future plots from even getting that far. With Brown in place, it was highly unlikely that Labour would recover enough of their polling deficit to make it worth going earlier than they had to. So they wouldn’t.

The first strand of that argument is even stronger now: even if there was the inclination to depose Brown, there’s barely time to elect an alternative – and there just isn’t that inclination. The second strand however is perhaps worth revisiting.

There will always be the temptation for a party leader, trailing in the polls but watching that deficit reduce, to hang on in order for it to reduce further. If there is to be a pre-May election, Brown will have to call it contrary to that temptation. Why might he do that?

Both March and April are available at 10/1 with Ladbrokes and contain a range of four Thursdays that might appeal, between March 18 and April 8 (though April 1 is both Maundy Thursday and April Fools Day, which is asking for trouble). An early election reduces the risk of Labour’s recovery from being reversed by external events. All the dates would be before the next growth figures are released, figures which may not be too healthy given the impact of the snow and the VAT increase. There would also be no Budget for the markets to take and adverse view of if called before April 8 (the government could just squeeze it in for an election on that date, though there’d be no time to enact it).

Despite that, and despite Brown’s recent spate of speeches, I really don’t see any value in the odds for March. The dissolution would have to take place in the next week and a half for a March election (assuming a Thursday); the announcement earlier. For that to take place, one would expect Labour to be not just raising the campaigning temperature but being battle-ready. With any planned election, there are signs to look out for when it becomes imminent, principally in terms of logistical support being booked and organised. Those signs aren’t there.

The April odds have more to commend them. There is some sense in pre-empting potentially bad growth figures and reducing other risks. If Budget Day, which must surely be announced soon, is March 10, then an April 8 election day becomes a very serious possibility. Even, if it’s later than that, April isn’t necessarily out: it could be rescheduled and there have been later budgets.

What about June? That’s best-priced at 12/1 with Paddy Power. The obvious obstacle is the local elections, scheduled for May. They could be moved but it’s getting late to do so and would in any case give the game away. It might also be poorly received by many people in both local government and voluntary parties (i.e. activists) who are working to a May 6 timetable.

Allowing the elections to take place might be a high-risk strategy but could pay off if Labour make gains, as they might given the 2006 results. The probability is still that the national vote shares wouldn’t justify it. The opposite scenario – Labour holding out till the last minute because something goes horribly wrong in late March – isn’t worth it either as that would then likely kick off a May campaign with dreadful local election results.

Which brings is back to May, 1/6 with Ladbrokes and a touch better for what‘s there on Betfair. It very probably will be May but the odds are (understandably) so short. I just wonder whether Brown might do a Major and plump for the second week in April.

David Herdson

***Bunnco on PB2: “It’s the councils stupid”***

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