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Why Gordon may go just after he’s arrived (“to the country” that is)

July 3, 2007

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 Why Ladbrokes’s offer on an early election is surprisingly good value

Currently, the bookmakers Ladbrokes is offering digital odds of 9.00 (8-1 in traditional terms) for a British general election in 2007. Intuitively this may seem poor value. After all Gordon Brown has just replaced Tony Blair less than a week ago and conventional wisdom has it that, after ten years as chancellor, Brown is unlikely to immediately take a massive risk by ‘going to the country’. All of the previous five Prime Ministers who have acceded to office in-between elections (Sir Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, James Callaghan and John Major) either waited several years before calling an election or, in the case of Douglas-Home, prolonged parliament to the maximum five years that the law allows. Additionally, there are serious questions as to whether the Labour party finances are in a fit state to withstand an election campaign.

However, the reasons in favour of an early election are even more compelling. The transition has bought Labour a boost and (more importantly) stopped the extended honeymoon that David Cameron had been enjoying in the opinion polls. At the same time recent events have thrown into highlight the need for an experienced national leader who can deal with the War on Terror, as opposed to a youthful lightweight who has called for the phrase ‘Islamist’ to be banned from national discourse. Although Brown is no Tony Blair he has admirably handled the crisis and proved that he can bring his ‘big great clunking fist’ to bear on terrorism. At the same time the government will face many legislative challenges, from the latest European Treaty to a final settlement of the House of Lords. Gaining a mandate through a snap election would outflank critics of these policies (on which the Labour party is by no means united).

However, the most compelling reason for calling an election would be to deal with the problem of the Liberal Democrats. Currently, the Lib Dems have enough MPs to make a hung parliament a probable outcome if neither Labour or the Conservatives win convincingly. Therefore Labour not only have to prevent the Conservatives gaining enough seats to win but they also have to stop the Lib Dems using enough tactical votes from the Conservatives to win seats in traditionally Labour areas. It goes without saying that the price of a coalition government (PR, Withdrawal from Iraq) would be unacceptable to large sections (if not the majority) of the Labour party. A snap election would catch the Lib Dems, as well as the Tories, on the hop.

Indeed, Gordon Brown, by taking the risky decision to invite Liberals into the cabinet and emphasing (modest) constitutional reforms could be laying the groundwork for a September election. Indeed, instead of making the classic strategic mistake of trading short term advantage for medium term discontent within his own party, Brown is hoping that the turmoil within the Lib Dems caused by his offer will enable him to win an election outright and therefore avoid making worse compromises further down the line.

Obviously, an election would still be greatly out of character for Brown but the odds are a lot shorter than 9-1.

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