Is a March election back on?

Why Brown should not delay

There's renewed speculation over a March election this morning after Alistair Darling's highly political pre-Budget report yesterday.

I've long thought that Brown should go to the country in March rather than May or June. First, it would allow him to avoid the ignominy of calling an election at the last possible date. Second, a March election would mean Labour could neatly avoid breaking its pledge not to raise income tax during this parliament. The 50p tax rate won't kick in until April, raising the possibility that the Tories may be forced not merely to tolerate the tax, but to actually introduce it. Finally, with Labour now enjoying its biggest poll bounce since the beginning of the financial crisis, Brown should strike while the Tories are rattled.

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Iain Martin predicts 25 March will be the date:

In this scenario, Brown would ask the Queen for a dissolution after parliament returns from its two-week recess on Monday, Feb. 22. That would lead into a four-week-and-a-bit campaign.

Last month, Nick Robinson suggested there was no chance of a March election, because the Budget is likely to be read in the same month. In fact, after the negative media response this morning to Darling's performance, I'd argue it's far more likely the Budget will be postponed until after the election.

Brown and Darling won't want to go through another morning of universally negative headlines about tax rises and the size of the deficit before the election. And with the pre-Budget report now a second Budget in all but name, there's no need for them to do so.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.