Friday, November 21, 2008

Early Election, Anyone?

Signs the government is preparing the groundwork for an early 2009 general election are increasing. Clinging onto power until the bitter end is no longer an option. Voters now have to suffer a phoney war, with a heady mix of spin and propaganda, as the government clears the decks for a campaign proper.

A stripped down Queen's Speech in two weeks time is the latest sign an early election is on the cards. The forthcoming legislation is a pale shadow of measures Brown announced earlier this year in his Queen's Speech by proxy.

This is being spun as a way to allow ministers to get the message out on the economy. In reality, it allows them time to hit the campaign trail.

Slowly, unpopular legislation which could be a vote loser or cause a commons confrontation are being shelved. 42 days, secret inquests and other U-turns are joined by plans for big brother surveillance laws which are being shelved.

For the government, one of the biggest bugbears for voters and grass roots Labour Party members is Iraq.

The Orange Party has indicated on numerous occasions that troop withdrawal is already fixed to a careful timetable for political advantage, after the UN occupation mandate expires at the end of the year.

Exact dates for a pull-out are already decided by Washington and Baghdad. That too will happen before May/June, removing a major obstacle to the government's legacy of that war. Meanwhile the hopeless and unwinnable mess in Afghanistan is being spun by the MoD with embedded TV reports.

The recent spate of opinion polls should come with a public health warning. Brown is riding on the back of the economic woes reflected in the polls which are getting perilously close to US style push polls to sway public opinion.

With a clever use of weightings they seems to show a Labour/Tory gap narrowing. In reality, they are designed to be seized on by commentators to remove desperation and deliver hope.

It is the economy where the battle is being fought and will continue to do so. But that can only play to the government's advantage for so long.

Brown's currency on this is short-lived. Once the BBC finally admits we are in for a long and painful recession not a cute little downturn, voters will see the government's mismanagement of the economy for what it really is. And for that mess, they'll blame Brown. The risk voters could turn on him is too great.

The legacy could be massive unemployment, reaching 3m by the end of next year. No New Labour government wants to go into an election with another 'Labour isn't working' slogan. An election sooner rather than later is the only option.

For the Tories, the battle ground is England to win back the hearts and minds of voters turned on by New Labour. The government can't afford to wait for the Conservative message to be driven home. The Tories cannot afford to lie low.

In Scotland, the recent Glenrothes by-election was spun as a Labour victory. Then, the Orange Party was one of the few voices pointing out this was nothing of the sort.

The latest round in the battle is all about how to pay for tax cuts and tax breaks, due to be announced in Darling's pre-budget ballot-box bribery report next week. The government is driving home the nonsense message that the country is well placed to weather the storm and can afford more massive borrowing, leading to Brown's Christmas give-away in a pre-election budget. He won't even have that luxury next year.

Traditionally general elections are often fought in the early summer or early autumn. Miss the window of opportunity in April-June and that just leaves autumn 2009 or late spring 2010. This is a political party that wants to cling onto power until the bitter end but that end could be very bitter and too risky.

With a mixture of arrogance and buoyed by his apparent come-back, Brown, like it or not, will have to call an election in April-June, a view shared by the Evening Standard. Unless of course he bottles it again.

But now at the heart is Campbell and deputy prime minister Mandelson. His escape from EU corruption allegations set in motion a massive seed change in the way the government manages its message. Risk is not something spinners and political strategists want to manage. They want control. To manage the media. To manage the polls and public opinion.

And the icing on the cake? A visit to the UK by president Obama around April will allow the government to ride on the back of all the fanfare and hullabaloo.

At the heat lies a US Obama-style election strategy to capture the media, capture public opinion, capture the message and capture the voters. That worked so effectively in the US presidential elections. Brown could pull it off too but he doesn't have much time.

UPDATE: Brown and his spinners have been quick to dampen down speculation of an early election but didn't rule it out, since the Orange Party and others raised it earlier today. Like the Orange Party, The First Post's Westminster Mole is having none of it.

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