I’m pretty sceptical of the chatter about Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown calling an early general election.* Here is one of the reasons, a reason which hasn’t been much talked about.
Imagine we have an early election. Imagine too that Labour manages what is probably the limit of its hopes – coming out the largest party in a hung Parliament. (Witness Labour MPs going round telling Liberal Democrats how much they now love voting reform.)
Labour then hangs on to power.
But in May along comes a round of local elections, in which Labour will – almost certainly – suffer massive losses. If you’ve got experience of a no overall majority council, you’ll know just how much the political momentum – and hence the range of plausible governing arrangements which can hang together – can get shifted by election results one way or the other.
It immediately makes clinging on to power that much harder.
Don’t forget too that the logic of calling an early election is meant to be to hold it before the budget. So you do that, and then have to have the budget and get thumped in the local elections: two big hits to your popularity just as you’re trying to hang on.
Not exactly a plan that stacks up is it?
* Pedantry corner: of course, a general election in May is itself an early election as you have to dissolve Parliament after five years, which means when you add on the length of election campaigns that it can be more than five years between general elections. But ‘early’ is generally being used to mean ‘before May’.