PracticePeople In PracticeThe silly season

The silly season

As political silly seasons go the one just ended was mercifully brief and since John Prescott, left in charge while the Blairs basked in Italy, stayed buttoned up - not very silly.

In fact some serious political work was done. Labour settled into its new role as the avowed party of public spending.

The Tories struggled. Their attack on Cherie Booth was judged an error because of the anti-woman signals it sent; William Hague will live forever with his ridiculous claim of 14 pints a day.

In the run up to the party conferences, the Tories lack a coherent view of themselves. Attacking Blair for slavish pursuit of focus group opinion won’t wash when most of its policies are tailored to getting tabloid headlines.

Its old card, tax cuts, is no longer a trump. Even in the United States, spending (or at least not cutting taxes further) is back in fashion.

The latest Mori poll shows Labour 20% ahead and, more important, Labour supporters are firmer in their intention actually to get out and vote than they have been for a while.

The circumstances are objectively right for an early election. Why not October: a short (two week) campaign, launched unexpectedly as the party gathers at the seaside?

Conventional wisdom says voters do not like being troubled to vote before they have to. But Blair might calculate that people may want a chance to settle matters quickly – giving him the five years he seems destined to have. The objection is that he would be perceived as ‘cynical’.

So why not wait until when he has to go to the country, in May 2002?

By then of course Gordon Brown’s largesse will be flowing strong, in hospital wards and school classrooms. But political gurus whisper about the economy or, as important, people’s expectations of an economic downturn, which seem to be growing.

Which leaves next year, which would also suit in terms of the timing of a UK bid to join the single currency. Labour HQ at Millbank is watching the long-range weather forecasts.

Showers are predicted for next May, which suggests Blair’s month has to be June.

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