David Maddox: It's the start of an election, not end of the world, Gordon

THERE have been jollier wakes than the announcement in Downing Street by Gordon Brown yesterday morning that the country would at last get to have a General Election on 6 May.

Some English commentators love to call the Prime Minister dour, partly because they think it is a Scottish national trait, but the word could have applied to his whole Cabinet yesterday from whichever part of the British Isles they hailed.

Perhaps they felt that they were present at the death of a government and, at least for now, their ministerial careers.

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"It will come as no surprise to all of you, and it is probably the least well-kept secret of recent years, but the Queen has kindly agreed to the dissolution of Parliament and a General Election will take place on May 6," Mr Brown intoned.

Douglas Alexander, charged with organising Labour's campaign and standing just behind Mr Brown, looked more miserable than most, no doubt thinking: "If only he had listened to me in 2007."

And, as Mr Brown suggested they "go to it", there was not a flicker of applause, just a shrug of the shoulders as they traipsed back in to No10. This must have been what Mr Brown meant when he said: "I am not a team of one. As everybody can see, I am one of a team. A team with energy, substance and ideas to lead this country in a second decade of a still new century."

In contrast, less than a mile away, standing by Westminster Bridge, a cheerful looking Tory leader David Cameron managed to upstage the PM by two minutes as he leapt on his soap box to deliver an address to candidates.

Harking back to the style of John Major may not exactly fill everybody with confidence but, remember, it was the soap box that won it in 1992. But even the confident Mr Cameron was suddenly struck by stage fright. "It's daunting," he said as he arrived in Brummieland. "It is an enormous mountain to climb. The Conservatives have not won that many seats in one go since 1931."

But when you want to close the gap, where better place to go than Watford? Which is exactly what the Lib Dem leader did in his shiny new gold tie on his even shinier gold bus. "It's not a two-horse race," Mr Clegg insisted. "We need something new."

Which was the point when Alex Salmond made his television appearance to remind people that the real importance of the day was that it was the 690th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath.

Which had a couple of hacks in London wondering when he was going to produce some smokies.