Wednesday, November 11, 2009

March Election Ruled Out - Or Is It?

Nick Robinson has just posted a good story on his blog concerning the timing of the next election. Accoding to him, and, it seems, George Osborne's advisers, it won't be March

The Tories have been worrying away about the possibility of a March election giving Gordon Brown an element of surprise.

Now George Osborne's backroom team have found a reason to stop worrying unless, that is, Gordon Brown wants to go to the country without having a Budget.

The date of the Pre-Budget Report was announced today as 9th of December. The Code for Fiscal Stability which Gordon Brown put into law in 1998, states that there must be "at least three months" between the Pre-Budget Report and the following Budget.

Thus, the earliest possible date for a 2010 Budget is the 9th of March. That is after the latest possible date - 1st of March - on which Gordon Brown could call a March election.

The Treasury civil servants are all working towards a spring Budget and Brown would be pilloried if he went to the country without telling voters what economic horrors might lie ahead.

So, it looks like we're back to May which is, incidentally, where I've always assumed we'd be.

I'm not so sure about that, but before we get to that, let's look at what this Code for Fiscal Stability actually says...

The Code for Fiscal Stability, introduced in legislation by Gordon Brown in 1998, states that there must be “at least three months” between the Pre-Budget Report and the following Budget.
The only exceptions are:

a) If the Budget is the first Budget of the Parliament, which is not true in this case.

b) If there is more than one Budget in any financial year, in which case only one PBR is required – in other words a second PBR is not needed 3 months before the second Budget, but the PBR must still be at least three months before the first Budget in the financial year.

“If, as is usual, there is only one Budget in a financial year, the Treasury shall publish a Pre-Budget Report (PBR) at least three months prior to it, unless this is the first Budget of the Parliament, in which case a PBR shall not be required. In addition, if there is more than one Budget in any financial year, only one PBR shall be required.” (HM Treasury, Code for Fiscal Stability, Paragraph 15).

Of course, one thing which Nick Robinson and George Osborne's backroom team seem to have overlooked is that it is entirely possible, in theory, for the Prime Minister to hold a March election and then delay a budget until mid to late April, just as he did this year. Politically that would be highly dangerous as the Conservatives would say that it showed the government was afraid to hold a budget for fear of revealing the parlous state of the economy. But it's possible to imagine they could just about get away with it. It would be brazen, risky, full of downsides, but I can just imagine Peter Mandelson arguing for it.

Unlike Nick Robinson, I have never believed that the election will necessarily be held on May 6th. The big disadvantage of that date from the government's point of view is that only a few days earlier people will have received much lighter pay packets than they are used to. This is because last year's tax rise announcements come into force in April 2010. Would you really want to hold an election with that as a backdrop?

So my bet has always been on June 3rd or April 15th or March 25th. Which, given my record on predictions, means it will definitely be May 6th!


joshuachambers said...

Brown is unable to shake off "dithering" allegations. Surely they could see that "bottling" a budget would be disastrous for an election campaign? It would be madness not to rule out March.

Witterings From Witney said...


It always was going to be 6th May - local elections??

How would Gordon also get away with the cost of two elections, financial status of the country as it is?

Hardly rocket science is it?

Morus said...

"Thus, the earliest possible date for a 2010 Budget is the 9th of March. That is after the latest possible date - 1st of March - on which Gordon Brown could call a March election."

I don't understand this. Why is the 1st March the "latest possible date ... on which Brown could call a March election"?

Why could it not be on the 18th March, or the 25th March, both of which would be after a budget that could be on the 9th?

There is clearly a piece of very obvious information that I'm missing, so if someone wouldn't mind pointing it out, I'd be grateful.

John Moss said...

Two further reasons for May 6th.

Labour are broke. They cannot afford to fight two elections in close succession.

Labour would be decimated at Council level if the local elections were not on the same date.

Luke Akehurst has written eloquently on this here:

Oliver Drew said...


I can forsee two ways this will play out:

The first is that the economy looks like it is going to begin recovering, then much like Major in 1997 he (Brown) could leave it until the very last minute (though no doubt he will call it later than Major).

The second is that the economy is not looking like recovery, in which case no budget will help Labour anyway in which case they might as well go early, minimze any potential defeat and not bother with a budget...

I think we'll probably see a June election regardless though, as Brown looks to hang on as long as possible in the hopes that the people "see the Tories for what they are" - or at least as Brown sees them...

vervet said...

Andrew Neil says 6 May ... no denial by Ben Brogan ... looks likely ?

Cath said...

@ Morus, the operative word is "call" an election. As distinct from the day it would be held.

Unsworth said...

Of FFS! Just bring it on, Brown. Ready when you are.

trevorsden said...

"the economy looks like it is going to begin recovering, then much like Major in 1997" ---- The economy had been growing for far longer than a bare 6 months in 1997.

It would be in the interests of the country to have an election March 25. But Labour will be anxious not to admit the cuts in store until after the election.
The PBR will be an exercise in wishful thinking. We must hope that a public spirited treasury official leaks the truth.

We should also remember that we are currently in the middle of a good old fashioned pre-election spending boom.

But the key thing everyone must remember and repeat to whoever cares to listen is that even in the so called good years when we had economic growth Brown and Labour ran deficits, ever since 2002.
The structural deficit is huge and we need to overcome that and repay the cyclical debt and then generate a surplus for the next downturn in the cycle.

A simple return to growth is NOT the end of our problems, indeed its the start of us taking the medicine.

tankus said...

As long as legally possible . Unless Gordon manufactures a national emergency and stretches it even further, in the "national interest" of course !

Mirtha Tidville said...

Quite frankly old boy I dont think the country can wait until next year....we need an election now in order to dispose of this total shower of shit.......

Bill Quango MP said...

Oliver Drew
"see the Tories for what they are" - or at least as Brown sees them...

He can't see anything. He's blind dontchaknow. Leave him alone you Bullingdon Murdochite Thatchersist bullies.

The Grim Reaper said...

Looking in my glass ball to the future, here is an excerpt from a news report on June 27th, 2219.

"SIR GORDON Brown has denied reports that he is about to call a general election. The Prime Minister, who has now been in power for 212 years, claimed that he needed more time to show the British electorate his 'vision' for the country.

When Lord Andrew of Marr alleged that Brown had used this line numerous times before, the PM dodged the question, preferring instead to talk about how he had 'led the way' in getting Britain out of 'the five national bankruptices we have suffered in the last 200 years, all of which began in America. Besides, it also means that I have now outlived the past eight Tory leaders, thus denying them their chance to implement Tory cuts that would damage our public services.'

The news means that the United Kingdom has now not had a general election since 2005. Suggestions that this was arrangement was undemocratic were dismissed by the first head of the Republic of Britain, President Peter Mandelson. He claimed, over an avocado dip dinner he had with Baron Robert Peston, that 'this claim that Britain is now a dictatorship is press prattle.'

In other news, the Prime Minister has been forced to deny rumours that there are pictures of him on the internet wearing a nappy whilst riding a rocking horse."

Morus said...

Cath - Thanks!

I was forgetting that the 24 days involves immediate prorogation of Parliament, plus weekends.

Still think an Election without a budget is possible though...

Thatsnews said...

What is the last date he could go for?

6p00e008dc069e8834 said...

I think he would much rather go without a budget. How could he face history as the Labour leader who cut public services. He cant fight an election on Tory cuts if he has just announced his own. But I agree he does not want to be seen to bottle the budget either, so earlier still.
I think late February or early March after Mandelson has dreamed up some emergency to justify it.
Unless he thinks the economy is really improving in which case as late as possible

I have just come from an NHS London conference for NHS bigwigs (at which I was a toupe) Darling has told NHS London the best the NHS can hope for is £15 billion off over 5 yrs. We were told that was optimistic and only if the NHS budget was "protected".
Brown isn't going to go to the country after that's announced in the Budget. He'll leave that to the Tories. He has to have some long term survival strategy for Labour.

February on some excuse or other definitely before the budget.

Harry Hayfield said...

In answer to That'sNews question: June 3rd 2010.

This is another reason for fixed term parliaments. Take the power to call an election out of the hands of the Prime Minister

Ean Craigie said...

Everyone seems to be overlooking one simple fact. Gordon Brown cannot make the big descisions, his language when confronted is to study and form study groups and weigh the facts, in other words wait for a compromise to appear and latch onto that. This means May as he cannot the descision to go earlier, look what happenned last time. The labour study groups will be protecting their turf and so hoping that Cameron makes more mistakes and that somehow they can turn it around. The appointment of Mandy says it all.

The Boiling Frog said...

Here’s what I think will happen; Brown is, as we speak, consulting his well-thumbed ACME book of ‘cunning plans to outfox the Tories’.

So early next year there will be lots of oh-so-brilliant ‘will he won’t he’ moves all designed to box the Tories into a corner. But in true Brown style it goes tits up and backfires spectacularly.

Then we have the election on May 6th like everyone was expecting

Not a sheep said...

Why does anyone expect Gordon Brown to follow the rules he has previously laid down? He could just change the rules; for the good of the nation.

DespairingLiberal said...

Surely it will be June, seeing as Brown above all wants to cling to office and he knows he will be out at the election - gives him a few more months to pass favoured legislation.

Luke Akehurst said...

John Moss

my argument for holding the elections on the same day was nothing to do with the party's finances. The nastional party does not fund local election campaigns and it costs just as much in terms of printing leaflets if you have two elections on the same polling day as if you hold them on separate days.

Richard Baron said...

There was a Budget on 22 April 2009, so a February or March 2010 Budget would be a second Budget in the financial year 2009-10. On my reading, the rule about three months between PBR and Budget would therefore not apply to the gap between the PBR on 9 December 2009 and an early 2010 Budget.

One other thing: if they go to the country before passing at least a one-line Finance Act that keeps income tax in force, they need to be back in the House and in action by 5 April 2010. Otherwise we stop paying income tax. Budget resolutions normally give them time to pass a Finance Act in July or August under the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968, but not if there is a dissolution.

Alex said...

Sorry but this is only a code. It is there to be broken.

Still think it will be May though.

Owen Meredith said...

urely it can't relaistically be June, as to do that, Brown would have to dissolve Parliament and call the election at the latest just a few days before the local election polls? There simply isn't enough time afterwards.

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