Will general election be this winter? Yeah, but no, but yeah

INSIDE WESTMINSTER

THE answer to the question "should Gordon Brown call a snap election?" is often in the style of Vicky Pollard: "Yeah, but no, but yeah."

Just when things looked terminal for the Prime Minister, along came the shot in the arm that was the economic downturn. But, like some vaccinations, the benefits can be temporary and he will need to seek a booster if he is to ride it out.

Labour MPs have never been so vocally behind Mr Brown as they were at this week's question time session.

It takes a lot more energy, however, to deliver thousands of leaflets than it does to wave an order paper for half an hour.

There are few brave enough to demand that he calls an election now. As one insider said: "To be frank, it's not just banks that need recapitalisation." The party coffers are empty and elections cost money.

Also, cutting and running now could look opportunistic and some believe the PM would be caught out on that. The British electorate will be able to sniff out a party exploiting the misfortunes of the many for the gain of a few ministers. Despite pumping billions into the banks and the promise of lower interest rates after the Bank of England slashed rates by one and a half points, the benefits have not filtered down to homeowners and businesses.

Mr Brown has insisted that the party will not be distracted from the very serious task of handling the economy.

But crucially, he has not gone as far as ruling out a general election before June 2010, the latest possible time he can call one. There are even pointers to a possible winter election. Waiting until spring is a huge risk: unemployment will rocket by then, in the post-Christmas cull expected across many sectors.

There are already rumours that Labour MPs have been queuing up to have their photographs taken with the Prime Minister, perhaps in preparation for election posters.

The Conservative lead has been slashed to three points, according to the latest Ipsos Mori poll. And for David Cameron to triumph, his party needs actually to secure a ten-point lead, because of the way votes are distributed across constituencies.

Also, things can only get worse economically in the short term. As one long-term friend of the PM said: "More and more people are suggesting that he should go for it as quickly as possible."

Then again, Mr Brown is an ideologue, not a pragmatist. Perhaps punters should look at the scale of the Pre-Budget Report giveaways on Monday before placing their bets on an early ballot.

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