The weekend brought more speculation over a 25 March election, with Labour officials reported to have told Gordon Brown that the party machine is ready to go.
Ed Balls appeared to pour cold water on the idea on GMTV this morning when he said: "In all my discussions with Gordon Brown, with Peter Mandelson, it's never, ever come up, the idea of a March election. But we are ready whenever." However, those who follow Claud Cockburn's advice to "never believe anything until it's officially denied" may disagree.
Here's a summary of the case for and against a March election:
1. Official figures due out in January are expected to show that the economy has finally emerged from recession. Brown could argue that Labour's fiscal stimulus prevented a depression. By May, the economic recovery may have slowed.
2. It would allow Brown to go to the country before tax increases such as the new 50p top rate kick in next April. For an idea of what a difference this can make, compare the reaction to the abolition of 10p tax before and after it was implemented.
3. The Budget could be delayed until after the election, allowing Brown and Alistair Darling to avoid another set of universally negative headlines over tax rises, spending cuts and the deficit. The earliest possible date for the 2010 Budget is 9 March, after the last possible date -- 1 March -- on which Brown could call a March election..
4. An early election would limit the amount of time the Tories have left to spend the millions they have raised. During the election campaign all parties are subject to spending caps.
5. A March election would diminish the impression that Brown has had to be dragged kicking and screaming from Downing Street. The longer he waits, the weaker he seems (John Major syndrome).
6. A May election would allow Eurosceptics to punish the Tories over their Lisbon U-turn by voting for Ukip in the local elections while still backing David Cameron in the general election. An earlier vote would rob them of this option. Recent polls have shown support for Ukip rising from 2 per cent to 4 per cent.
1. By postponing the Budget until after the election, Labour could be credibly accused of hiding spending cuts from the voters. The Conservatives could damn Brown as "the man who went to the country without a Budget".
2. The dark nights could lower voter turnout. Paul Waugh notes: "Given that most people vote after work -- and that on 25 March 2010, the sunset time even in London will be 6.22pm -- I wouldn't put my house on it."
3. An early election would dramatically reduce turnout for the 6 May local elections and could further eat away at Labour's councillor base.
4. A March election followed by local elections on 6 May would cost taxpayers more. Alex Smith, over at LabourList, argues: "[T]he cost of holding two elections within six weeks of each other would be excessive -- and would be deemed to be excessive by the public."
I'm in favour of a March election, but Labour MPs must avoid talking up an early election until they get confirmation from the top. Just remember what happened last time . . .