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Why Brown should not back down

October 5, 2007

Five reasons why Gordon Brown would be making a mistake if he delayed the election.

1. Brown can win the election – As the last post indicated, if the election were held today Brown would have a majority of about 66. My guess is that the dying down of the effect of Cameron’s speech (which I have to confess that I underestimated) will counter any tendency of voters to vote in a more Conservative fashion than they will admit to pollsters.

2. Lib Dem weakness – The Decimation of the Lib Dems should be secondary only to defeating the Conservatives in Brown’s strategy. Since voting reform is the price that Lib Dems will demand for cooperation in a hung parliament it stands to reason that such an outcome should be avoided at all costs. A Conservative victory would mean that Labour will be back in power within two parliaments (and vice versa) while an outcome where no party had a majority would mean permanant coalition government (and fragmentation of both main political parties). This may be the only chace Labour has to hit them when they are weak.

3. Weather is not as big as factor as everyone thinks – The United States has managed to hold regular elections for over two centuries in Novemeber. Although there is evidence that rain negatively impacts on turnout and that parties of the left are disproportionately hit, this is relatively minor. Indeed, Brad Gomez and George Krause suggest that an inch of rain may reduce turnout by less than 1%. Given that the mean additional rainfall for the month of November is less than 1 inch per day, this is not a major factor. At the same time the relatively short build up will mean that voters have less chance to be bored by the extended campaign that was a feature of the 1997, 2001 and 2005 campaigns – this will boost turnout. In contrast voters will be turned off by the extended speculation if the election is delayed.

4. The government ultimately controls the agenda – Although unexpected events can reduce government popularity there don’t seem to be any on the horizon. In contrast the government can still use the ‘bully pulpit’ of ministerial office to grab the agenda. In an election where both sides are realtively unprepared – this control of the agenda is an immense advantage.

5. An election victory would given him greater freedom to take risks – Brown strategy of trying to appeal to Liberal Democrats and Tories means that his scope for taking stances that are unpopular with sections of the electorate has been reduced. Indeed, it would be fair to say that he has played LBJ to Tony Blair’s JFK. This is by no means a bad thing, after all LBJ might have been a politican who used persuasion and deal making to achieve his ends, but he was able to create the great institutions of US society such as Medicare and a welfare safety net. However, an election victory would allow Brown to push the policymaking envelope and to reconnect with Blair’s take on foreign policy. More concretely, It would also mean that he could stop talking about drawing down troops in Iraq and return to Tony Blair’s stance of staying the course in the region (or at least until the US electorate decides the issues next November).

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