... it is a long-odds gamble that voters will feel so grateful after a lengthy period of job losses and repossessions as to feel they owe him another term. Mr Cameron's classic "Time for change" pitch works better the longer Mr Brown hangs around without a mandate, looking his age.The period between Brown announcing an election and the poll itself has to be over 17 working days; the February 28th election in 1974 was held 21 days after the announcement. The Queen can dissolve Parliament when it's in recess (as it will be until 12th January) or if she's at Sandringham, so the new year break doesn't pose an obstacle.
The downside would be the terror in government ranks at the thought of an "early" election (though not by the usual convention of four-year terms not five) after last autumn's cancelled election trauma. This was brought home to me when a usually serene Labour peeress practically spat fury when I raised the idea and attributed it to the "Right wing press and its allies". Oddly, since one former minister and diehard friend of Mr Brown had just confirmed it as "an option that has to be considered on the quiet".There would be an opportunism charge for sure. But Mr Cameron could not afford to dwell on an argument about timing once a short campaign was under way. "You'd be mad not to think about it," says another senior figure who has worked closely with Mr Brown for decades. "He will see how the Tory poll lead fares after Christmas, then make a decision."
That February 1974 election was our last Winter election - and produced a hung Parliament. The Conservatives were the incumbent party at the time, and as an interesting footnote Labour had this economic summary in their manifesto:
Three years ago when Labour was in power, Britain had a big and growing surplus on the balance of payments. Mortgage rates stood at 8.5 per cent; Labour had built two million houses in six years; and the rise in the cost of living had been held down to less than S per cent a year. Today interest rates are at record high levels, and house building is at its lowest for more than ten years. The cost of living has gone up by 10 per cent a year and food prices have risen by no less than 18 per cent in one year.
The present Government came to office with promises of lower taxation, stable prices, reduced unemployment and increased financial strength. Three years later we have experienced a 20 per cent devaluation of the pound (or a 'float' downwards of that extent); unemployment has been over a million and is now rising again; prices have risen faster than at any time in living memory; and tax cuts for the rich have been paid for by price rises for the rest of us. We now have the lowest house building programme since 1963 combined with rampant inflation in rents and house prices. Wages are controlled whilst unearned incomes and capital values soar. The banks have doubled their profits through the record interest rates their customers have to pay. 1974 will certainly produce the biggest balance of payments deficit in our history.
So almost a mirror image of the position we face now.