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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 October 2007, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
Darling's fresh light on poll plan
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Anyone still wondering what Gordon Brown thought he was up to originally with his snap election stunt has just been given an answer.

Alistair Darling
Darling is accused of stealing Tory clothes

It was, quite simply, designed to spook the Tories into revealing their manifesto so it could be re-written in New Labour red ink.

Of course, it all got out of hand and backfired badly on the prime minister when everyone - himself included - started taking all the election talk too seriously and really thought about doing it.

But, had it remained just a clever political game, this would still have been the end result.

It would still have led to Chancellor Alistair Darling delivering just such a series of measures, calculated - cynically calculated, according to shadow chancellor George Osborne - to shoot every opposition fox.

So moves on inheritance tax, air passenger duties and loopholes for non-domiciles and private equity bosses would all have appeared and been greeted with much gnashing of frustrated Tory and Liberal Democrat teeth.

The inheritance tax plans even stole the Tories' pro-marriage platform by offering a real incentive for co-habiting couples to wed or enter a civil partnership.

Tory policies

However, the measures would almost certainly not have been delivered on this particular day or even in one package, and they may have produced a different response.

As it is, and thanks almost entirely to the fact the election game went so horribly wrong for the government, there is a real danger this will be seen as too clever by half.

George Osborne
Mr Osborne claimed government's vision was the Tories'
Yes, Mr Darling pretty effectively neutralised a whole series of potentially popular Tory policies in announcements that delighted Labour MPs and saw the prime minister almost wriggling out of his seat in anticipatory glee.

But both Mr Darling and Mr Brown now face charges of having no new ideas of their own - as the shadow chancellor declared, scrabbling around for a vision until the Tories handed them one, and treating the electorate as fools.

If everything else in the economy was going swimmingly, that very likely would not matter. It is, after all, the effect of tax cuts that matter to voters not arguments over who thought of them first.

Less favourable

And, it must be said, ministers insist they were already thinking along these lines long before the opposition came up with policies on them.

But, with growth forecasts downgraded and overall taxation and borrowing on the up, there will be claims these measures have been made against a less favourable economic background than for years and after a cynical political stunt.

So it remains to be seen how voters will react to them - and they won't get the chance to deliver their verdict for, perhaps, two years.

The calculation appears to be that the "feelgood" measures will outweigh any concerns about government cynicism and, by the time of the real general election, any sour taste will have faded.

But, like the opposition claims he "bottled" the election, will suggestions Mr Brown had been playing with the electorate for political gain have any negative impact?

Chancellor Alistair Darling on his budget plans

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