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Last Updated: Friday, 28 September 2007, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Martha Kearney's week
By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's The World at One, Labour conference

On Sunday evening we found ourselves sitting in a frou frou white marquee more suited to high class Bournemouth weddings at the Highcliff Hotel than earnest discussions about the minimum wage or rights of agency workers.

Gordon Brown
Mr Brown has a lonely decision ahead of him

This was The World at One fringe at the Labour Party conference with the motion "Change or lose?"

The trade union general secretary Tony Woodley attacked Labour's record on workers' rights and was especially irritated by Gordon Brown's invitation to Lady Thatcher.

Jon Cruddas, who was one of the candidates for deputy leader, said much more needed to be done to motivate party grassroots.

Polly Toynbee acknowledged the party's record but pushed for more on equal pay. Kitty Ussher and Geoff Hoon were defending the government.

Weather worries

Then as the wind howled around the marquee almost threatening to blow us away, Ann Black from Labour's NEC asked a question from the floor which was to be repeated again and again through the week: "Look how dark and cold it is outside now, how do you expect voters to turn out to vote in November?"

Jon Cruddas made it clear he thought there was no need for an early election.

Geoff Hoon joked that he used to have the Met Office under his control as defence secretary but no longer as chief whip. Privately he is one of those who are sceptical about an autumn contest because it would be so difficult to get a good turnout.

That is the best argument for going now - Things Can Only Get Worse

Traditionally Labour voters are less likely to vote than Conservatives.

Later at the New Statesman party (and at every party through the week) there was only one topic of conversation - would he or wouldn't he?

At first when young Brownite ministers said they were urging Gordon to go for an early poll, we were sceptical. Surely this was just spin, a way of destabilising the Conservatives before their conference?

But as the week went on, it became clearer that there was some genuine momentum.

Greater gamble

When I interviewed Foreign Secretary David Miliband on the BBC stand he refused to be drawn but on Wednesday Labour MP David Hamilton told us that he had started off on Saturday a sceptic but then changed his mind.

A senior Cabinet minister told me privately of his similar journey.

On The World This Weekend Ed Balls, the minister closest to Gordon Brown dampened down speculation by telling Shaun Ley that dividing lines with the Conservatives would have to be established not just this week but in "the months ahead".

By Wednesday that same man acknowledged that the greater gamble could be in delaying the election.

David Miliband and Martha Kearney on The World at One
David Miliband refused to be drawn on a snap election

That is the best argument for going now - Things Can Only Get Worse.

Brown's political Teflon has worked well during the terror attacks, floods, foot and mouth, bluetongue and Northern Rock but those crises just show how normal political life can be disrupted by the unexpected.

He will also know more than anybody about what lies ahead for the economy with slower growth and public spending.

However as a Labour pollster told me, this is the loneliest decision of all.

Gordon Brown has three more years as prime minister if he wants. An election victory now would only give him an extra two years.

Donor problem

Another minister who has worked closely with Brown for many years told me that money was a genuine problem.

Potential donors have been put off by "cash for honours".

If you give money now, your name is dragged through the press and there's less chance of getting a P or a K than if you don't donate.

So what will happen next?

If he decides to go, we will get a Commons statement on Iraq in the week of October 8th setting out a timetable for handing over Basra to Iraqi control.

He's also likely to bring forward the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Then a statement perhaps: "In view of all the election speculation (nothing to do with me of course) I have decided that it would be in the British national interest to prevent further instability and to trust the people to have their say".

If Brown decides against an early contest, then I would be surprised if much is said publicly at all.

There will be massive briefing of the papers, a few guarded comments from Brownite ministers "this was all media speculation, we have long term plans for schools and hospitals and mustn't be distracted" and from the prime minister himself, a Macavity-like silence.

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