Alex Massie

Should Gordon Go Now?

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By which I mean, natch, should El Gordo toddle off to Buckingham Palace and call for a general election next spring rather than hanging on until 2010. Danny Finkelstein says yes he should. I rather agree. Admittedly this agreement is to some extent predicated upon my dislike of Brown and the rest of his miserable, chiselling crew. (Smith, J being but the most alarming example of the breed). Consequently, the sooner the country has a chance to be rid of them, the better.

Nonetheless, putting personal prejudices aside (and the downside of a Tory victory in the spring, of course, is that disappointment will arrive that muh sooner), there's a Labour-centred case for going early too. As Danny says, the prospect of an alarming recession may make voters rather more risk averse and disinclined to change the government than they would be in happier times or, crucially, at the tail-end of a recession. If the Pime Minister hopes to steer the country through troubled economic waters and then be thanked by a grateful nation, he's set to be disappointed. Voters are an ungrateful bunch at the best of times and these, my friends, are not the best of times.

Additionally: what do the Tories want? They seem quite happy to wait until 2010, trusting that the public's reserves of patience - never deep - will have been exhausted by Brown and more than 13 years of Labour government. A snap election in the spring, however, that focused on the economy and nothing else might be Labour's best shot. Of course, it would be a gamble and Labour might well still lose, but it might also, paradoxically, be Brown's best shot at winning a mandate.

There is, mind you, one other consideration and we have, after all, been here before. The more speculation there is about an early election, the more difficult it will be for Brown to walk away from it. Last summer he had filled in his betting slip and was all set to hand it to the attendant only to blink, think again and scurry out the turf accountant's shop, all sweaty-palmed and heaving-breathed thinking that he'd come oh-so-close to losing his shirt. Bottling one election might be unfortunate, bottling two might be seen as carelessness.

An early election, mind you, would require bravery and boldness: two qualities Brown has rarely demonstrated. So the odds must be that he will hang on to 2010 in the hope that something, any-bloody-thing, will turn up. The trouble is, it probably won't. There's a risk that asking voters "Who do you want to navigate our way through this financial storm?" will produce the answer "Anyone but you, mate" but that's the gamble. Elections tend to be won by th ebolder party, the one that seems up for the fight. That's to say, incumbents who are in a defensive crouch, holding on and hoping for the bell to ring soon, rarely do well. Better to choose your own time, make a stand and see what happens.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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