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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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.