Page last updated at 16:08 GMT, Friday, 19 December 2008

Martha Kearney's week

By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's World at One

On the quayside at Plymouth, cheering crowds waving Union Jacks. Emotional family reunions with soldiers disembarking from the warships. Later a military parade down Whitehall. It's next May and our boys are coming home from Iraq.

Franz Ferdinand meet Martha Kearney
Franz Ferdinand make a fan's dream come true

That was the picture painted for me by a veteran Labour figure when I asked him whether there should be an election next year.

He was of the view that Gordon Brown should organise a Falklands style homecoming which would create a feel good factor with definite political benefits.

On a trip to Iraq this week the prime minister finally announced the long awaited - and much delayed - timetable for troop withdrawal which would leave just a few hundred troops left in Basra by next July.

There certainly will be a huge amount of relief across the country when the servicemen and women return home (though of course many of them will be then heading to Afghanistan) but could that really change the political weather?

The next election will be fought primarily on the economy and by 4 June next year which is the date for the European and local elections, the news will be terrible.

Complex calculations

This week I interviewed Sir Victor Blank, the chairman of LloydsTSB. His view was that the first half of next year would be difficult with house prices due to fall another 10%.

The unemployment figures this week were the worst for ten years. Those statistics are a lagging indicator so only tell us about jobless totals up to the end of October. The next figures are likely to be far worse as Tessa Jowell let slip this week with her prediction that this recession will be deeper than any we have ever known.

The calculation for Labour is a complex one.

I can imagine Gordon Brown arguing that too much uncertainty was bad for Britain at a time of economic crisis and so to preserve stability, he had to go to the country

Normally the idea of going to the polls at a time when unemployment is rising would seem a bizarre decision.

But Gordon Brown's improved poll rating seems due to voters' belief that his experience is to be trusted in an economic crisis.

So if that crisis is worsening, that could be to his advantage.

By 2010 if we are out of the worst, then perhaps the country would be more willing to risk change by voting Conservative.

Many commentators have drawn the parallel with Winston Churchill who was, of course, much loved during the war and then dumped at the 1945 election.

The other great parallel is with Jim Callaghan who famously delayed and then lost.

National interest

I have been thinking a great deal about 1978 recently as I have been working on a programme which looks at government documents released under the thirty year rule. (UK Confidential which will be broadcast on Radio 4 on December 30th at 11am).

The autumn of 1978 looked like a bad time to hold an election but not nearly as bad as May 1979 turned out to be.

One argument against 2009 made by Neil Kinnock on the Daily Politics this week is that there are no grounds for an election: you could not justify it in the national interest.

I'm not so sure.

If enough speculation was whipped up about holding one, I can imagine Gordon Brown arguing that too much uncertainty was bad for Britain at a time of economic crisis and so to preserve stability, he had to go to the country.

But in the end my instinct is that while June 2009 may well be Labour's best shot, Gordon Brown was so badly burnt by "the election that never was", he will hold out till 2010.

Secret Santa

This is my last piece of the year before I head off for the Christmas break.

It has certainly been a strange old twelve months with highly depressing news on many days.

It has also meant a sharp learning curve on the intricacies of the banking system.

I think we have all ended up knowing far more about credit default swaps and quantitative easing than we had ever imagined.

But personally the year has not been all doom and gloom.

At The World At One Christmas party last night Secret Santa gave me a present which recorded one of the highlights of my year.

That was when I interviewed Franz Ferdinand at the Latitude Festival who turned out to be such big Radio Four fans that they dedicated a song to me. (The WATO producers are sick to death of hearing this story).

Anyway, let me share it with you.

A Merry Christmas to you all.

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