An April election could be back on the cards

It is possible, but unlikely, that Gordon Brown will call a snap election.

Could we still be in line for an April election? Speculation rolls on.

An ICM poll for the Sunday Telegraph today showed the Conservatives on 39 per cent (down 1 point), Labour on 30 per cent, and the Liberal Democrats up 2 to 20 per cent. This is the first ICM poll to show the Tories on less than 40 per cent since last June. Continuing the recurrent theme of recent polls, if these results were repeated at the general election, they would result in a hung parliament.

It's heartening for Labour. In an interview with the Observer, Gordon Brown appeared buoyed by his recent success in Northern Ireland, the UK's emergence from recession (just about) and signs of Tory inconsistency on policy. "I'm not complacent," he said, using a word generally reserved for the obvious front-runner. "But Labour can still win it. I'm absolutely sure of that."

So, it's possible that Labour could attempt to capitalise on this feeling that the political tide is turning, and wrong-foot the Tories by calling the general election a couple of weeks earlier than the expected date, 6 May. Both the Telegraph and the Mirror report that this is what Labour strategists are advising Brown to do.

There is a strong case for Labour to call the election in mid-April. It would bypass the potentially problematic growth figures, released at the end of April, which could show Britain falling back into recession. The Tories are wobbling on economic policy, and, at the moment, Brown can still claim to have led the country out of recession.

But lest we forget, the improvement in the polls for Labour that everyone is so keen to shout about gives them, at best, a hung parliament, and nothing approaching an outright majority. If Brown genuinely believes that Labour can still win it -- and his self-belief is notoriously unshakeable -- it seems more likely that he will want to hang on in there and narrow the lead further, rather than take rash action.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.