Lots of twists and turns this week, and there have been nudges and winks indicating that there will be, or won't be, or will be or won't be......... a General Election in February.
Twists and turns isn't the start of it, on two occasions this week I have sat down and tried to put some thoughts onto the blog about where this all might be leading, but news kept breaking taking the story in a different direction.
I do not think there will be an election in February, I of course can not be certain, but I wouldn't completely rule out an election in 2009. By early 2010, general consensus is (for what ever that is worth) that the economy will be bottoming out and the pain of the credit crunch will hitting families hard. Additionally, having run down the clock on a full five year term, Labour know the public psyche recall Brown "bottling it" in 2008.
Having said that, February 2009 could be, just maybe, the best possible time to have an election, if you are a Labour MP, Minister or of course Prime Minister. Look ahead, in your own mind to what we know, or strongly suspect will happen next year, and as the year goes on the news will just keep getting worse and worse for Mr Brown and Labour. Local and EU elections which will [probably] be bad news for Labour, a second Irish referendum on The Lisbon Constitutional Treaty will rightly bring a poor spotlight on Gordon Brown and on the EU, increasing unemployment, declining £, lower returns on savings, increasing public debt. And of course from February Mr Brown will have to curtail use of his favourite line about our economic problems stemming from the US, or risk being the first European leader to fall out with President Obama.
So on that rationale, February starts to look good, get it in before all of the above sets in, and there are potential benefits as well. Mr Brown will be absolutely aching to be the first world leader to get to the White House, and if he can, he will be writing his own headlines in early February. An unknown will be the performance of the High Street over Christmas and the January sales, if based on turn-out at my local shopping centre last week, Mr Brown can be spinning about his VAT cut stimulating Christmas Sales. However, if based on my local shopping centre today, he will it will not be good news, and the Conservatives will have something tangible to add to their assault on The PMs economic record.
I suspect that because February could be circled as a possible time to go before things get worse, Peter Mandleson, and some in his circle will have engineered a few stories and leaks to see what the polls will say. Polls do tend to return different results when an Election is looming. Especially, when the poll is asking respondents what issues they most care about, these will be the key policy areas. It is hard to see anything topping the Economy as the key factor, especially for young families.
However despite it all. Despite reckless borrowing and debt levels to fund yet more Public Expenditure, despite the possibility that Labour might just be able to squeak it in February, I don't think Gordon Brown will go ahead with it. I honestly think that the Prime Minister has concerns about how he will be perceived when electioneering. He will have to go around middle England and ask those people that he has taxed and regulated the hardest to vote for their local Labour MP when the mere sight of Gordon Brown is likely to have the opposite effect. I suspect, whether he would admit it or not that Gordon Brown views Middle England as his natural enemy, his polar opposite and I do not think he will be able to bring himself to go pandering for their votes. Instead, I think he will take one more year acting the role of statesman, travelling the world and seeking our bigger summits. Come 2010 there will probably be a juicy EU job on the table for him, in return for his implementation of the Lisbon Constitutional Treaty in the UK.
OK - all that being said, assume I am wrong for a minute; because if the idea of an election is being gently floated, if they decide to go for it, they will HAVE TO go for it... and I want to play out some more thoughts.
There is one area that might bring results for Labour, and I think it is an area they have moved the chess pieces on in the last year. A little over a year ago, the Conservative Party had two things going for them, a strong shadow leadership team fronted by David Cameron and George Osborne and the fact that the Conservatives are not in anyway associated to Gordon Brown.
A long holiday and a return to cabinet for Peter Mandleson has seen a rejuvenated PM and a more organised, more crafted message. Peter Mandleson has transformed the Conservative approach. They were briefly in the ascendancy, now they do seem to be very cautious, perhaps too cautious to attack Labour policy. My opinion is that there is a real fear that if they come out and say anything at all, they leave themselves in danger of being "SPUN". Thus, in recent weeks, there seems to be only David Cameron making appearances on MSM news, with careful narration following on from other key Conservatives. I am not sure if centralising the Conservative message will work for them. It may work well for Labour, but that is a core trait for them; 'Solidarity' and 'Co-ordinated Communication' on defined issues. The Conservative strength has always been the ability to be the party that can accept more than one line on most matters, it is why the Conservatives tend to be the party that best protects free speech and individual liberties.
Peter Mandleson immediately targeted the Cameron/Osborne alliance, and he has had some success there. George Osborne's position as Shadow Chancellor is under scrutiny. On Conservative and right-wing blogs the debate seems to have moved past if George Osborne should be replaced, to who should replace him. A double whammy hit for Peter Mandleson because the person most floated by Conservative Bloggers (and the Labour Trolls) is Ken Clarke.
Now, I am not a fan of Ken Clarke. I have declared on this blog in its short existence that I am an undecided voter as far as the next election is concerned, but if Ken Clarke is the Shadow Chancellor I will be quick to say I will definitely not be voting Conservative. I do not share the view that Ken Clarke is a "Heavyweight", some of his speeches have been very monotone and uninspiring. Ken Clarke voted against the Tory Line on Lisbon, and appeared with Tony Blair in support of adopting the Euro, which was damaging to William Hagues Conservatives. I do not think I am alone with my assessment, and though I am only speaking to my opinions, I do think that there are a lot other Conservatives who feel the same. I think it is too late to replace George Osborne and not hand Labour another five years; but if he is replaced, George Osborne needs to go to CC HQ for and get started on General Election Strategy and Planning. And if he is replaced, Ken Clarke is not the answer. If George Osborne has to go then I can see no one other than John Redwood being able to take over and be able to show up the Governments economic record, and being widely accepted by likely voters. Despite Ken Clarke and John Redwood having respectively chequered history within the party, when John Redwoods name is floated, there is no instant riposte. This might suggest that his past leadership bids have not left a negative effect on voters. A quick scan of the right-wing blogosphere will also show much admiration for John Redwoods economic predictions on his blog.
Ken Clarke is not someone I would want to see as shadow chancellor - or as chancellor, and despite me being a little bewildered how some Conservatives seem to think he is the missing piece of the puzzle, he would be a good addition to the shadow cabinet. But he would need to have a remit that does not cross into Economic or European matters. If the aim of David Cameron is to have the strongest Shadow Cabinet possible, then Ken Clarke, John Redwood and David Davis should be included.
David Cameron should get someone in the shadow cabinet to shadow Peter Mandleson full-time. Labour would simply be unelectable if Peter Mandleson was to again leave the cabinet under the full storm of a media frenzy. David Davis could return and fill this role, and would probably enjoy and excel in such a role.
David Cameron has done a good job of getting Conservatives of varying opinions to function reasonably well as a shadow cabinet, and has largely brought an end to infighting between Conservatives through the media. It would be too easy for Labour to turn the Conservative Party against itself if Ken Clarke was Shadow Chancellor, in fact, I suspect Conservatives would not need Labour help there. But Ken Clarke is best when he has a challenge, he does garner support from a small section of the Conservative party that seemingly can reach.
If pushed for predictions as to what I have written I would say this.
1. No General Election in February.
2. George Osborne not replaced as Shadow Chancellor.
3. Gordon will be invited to the White House, but with other EU Leaders - spoiling his golden photo-op.
4. Opinion Polls will widen the Conservative Lead in January.