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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 August 2007, 09:05 GMT 10:05 UK
When will Brown call an election?
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

A few weeks ago when anyone asked whether Gordon Brown would hold a snap election in the autumn the answer was invariably "why would he".

PM Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown would need to boost Labour's election funds

Ask the same question today and the answer may very well be "why wouldn't he".

Indeed, according to the Mirror's reports of a leaked memo from New Labour's chief strategist, Lord Gould, it is something Mr Brown is considering.

The memo, written before Mr Brown became prime minister, reveals much of the style and approach Mr Brown has brought to the job was mapped out long beforehand and he appears to have pretty much stuck to the plan.

The key section, which has added to early-election fever, states: "We have to have a strategy of audacious advance. The best way of achieving this is to hold an early election after a short period of intense and compelling activity. A kind of 'shock and awe strategy' blasting through the opposition and blasting us to the mid-40 per-cents."

It comes form the same man who wrote the memo saying Tony Blair should leave Downing Street with the crowds begging for more and it seems to accurately predict precisely what is now happening.

The Tories are distracting themselves with a bout of internal sniping and blood-letting as David Cameron's opinion poll ratings slide.

Autumn poll risks

Meanwhile the "new" prime minister is enjoying a predicted bounce in the polls and is offering what appears to be a popular, more serious and less glitzy approach to leadership and just that period of "intense and compelling activity".

If Britain went to the polls today, a fourth Labour victory with around double the current majority is what the current opinion surveys suggest as the likely outcome.

So, after a good summer holiday during which, knowing Mr Brown, he will never stop calculating and planning, could he return in September and, shortly afterwards, spring a general election?

It may look enticing, but there are some real risks in going for an autumn poll.

There are historical examples of prime ministers either going early or waiting, and suffering as a result - Labour's Clem Atlee in 1951 (early) and Jim Callaghan in 1979 (late) and the Tories' Ted Heath in 1974 (early).

But they probably don't offer any real insights - other than how unpredictable this game is - as conditions are always entirely different.

Begging bowls

So Mr Brown will be calculating from scratch. And one of the first obstacles is the relatively mundane yet vital issue of cash.

Labour is currently some 26 million in the red and, thanks to the cash-for-honours affair, donors have been reluctant to cough up.

That black cloud may be passing, and party officials are already out and about with their begging bowls.

One way or another, should Gordon go for it, the money would be there.

And if the campaign was genuinely limited to three weeks, with fewer hugely expensive stunts and more soap box campaigning, that may be a welcome change from a party committed to getting back in touch with the voters.

Similarly, there are problems getting the local and national party machines, currently stripped back to the bone, in fighting shape.

That too is not an insurmountable problem but could give Mr Brown's party advisers reason to urge a delay until next spring - still seen as the most likely time for an early election. The autumn would all be a bit of a scramble.

Conservative leader David Cameron
David Cameron had his own 'bounce' when he became Tory leader

But then, putting the case for the autumn, there is the simple fact that the bounce may just stop.

This sort of political honeymoon is pretty fragile and can be based almost entirely on simply having a new face on the TV every night - David Cameron experienced an almost identical bounce after his election in 2005.

Mr Brown could take advantage of the bounce while being able to claim it was only right and proper that the British people should have their say on their new prime minister.

And, let's face it, even if he "bounced" to victory that would not lessen the five-year mandate he would have.

Either way, what Mr Brown almost certainly will not want to do is wait until the last moment, by which time all room for manoeuvre is closed off.

Four year tradition

The actual deadline for the next election is summer 2010, although recent tradition from both parties suggest the "normal" time for an election would be May 2009.

But even that may be leaving it a bit late for Mr Brown, who might well expect to have lost a bit of bounce by then.

If he is a worrier, Mr Brown might fear not just the Tories but that "events" may have overwhelmed the government.

It would also mean that unlike most PMs he would have spent the first two years in office preparing for an election rather than transforming the country in his desired direction.

So spring next year looks on the face of it to be the best option - but clearly there are arguments for and against all the different dates and the PM knows the virtues of keeping your opponents guessing.

Poll Watch: July 2007
01 Aug 07 |  UK Politics
Labour 'ready' for snap election
01 Aug 07 |  UK Politics
'One-in-six chance' of snap poll
25 Jul 07 |  UK Politics
Work begins on Labour manifesto
15 Jul 07 |  UK Politics

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