Saturday, 1 August 2009

Naming the Date - When will the General Election be?

From time to time there is a fresh round of speculation about the date of the General Election. Some say that, with unemployment [a lagging indicator] getting worse, the sooner it's called for Labour the better. But then Mark Penn pops up so say that Labour can still recover so actually it might be a case of wait-and-see. But one thing's for sure, until we have fixed term parliaments, the Government can call the date so I want to think about when that might be.

The Electoral Commission's website states quite clearly what the latest possible date for the General must be.

The five years run from the first meeting of Parliament following a UK Parliamentary general election. The current Parliament was first summoned on Wednesday 11 May 2005, so will cease to exist at midnight on Monday 10 May 2010. A general election to elect the new Parliament must be held by no later than Thursday 3 June 2010.

But how did they get these dates?

For that you need to visit the Parliament Website and an interesting paper RESEARCH PAPER 01/14
Parliamentary Election Timetables, where it lays down the statutory basis for calling the date including such interesting details like the provision to delay the date by 14 days should the monarch die during the campaign.

Parliament can be disolved at any time but recent convention has been to proroge it, which is a prerogative act of the Crown, which suspends nearly all business of both Houses, including the sitting of committees, until Parliament is
summoned again.
In previous C20 elections, the prorogation ceremony was an elaborate affair that took place whilst the houses were sitting but dissolution can occur at any time, even in the recess by simple Royal Proclamation and the issue of Writs.

Once the dissolution takes place the current timetable provides for a bare minumum of 24 days to polling day. This used to be 17 days but the additional time for postal voting has extended this to 24 days. But this is a tight time scale is rarely followed.

Oftentimes there's a televised announcement that the PM "intends to ask The Queen" to dissolve Parliament and the prorogation follows some days later.... and then a longer date than the 24-day minimum period for the poll is selected. In 1997, the campaign was a record 44 days made up of two parts: The announcement that John Major intended to call a dissolution then the dissolution and Campaign itself.

In Brown's case, he wants the shortest possible campaign because we know [Mike Smithson's third rule] that the more Cameron appears on the television, the better he does in the polls. And in the election period, broadcasting rules mean that the BBC have to give more coverage to the opposition parties than is unsually the case.

The current wisdom is that the General Election will be called on the 6th May 2010, just 28 days before the absolute deadline set by Statute.

And that 6th May day implies that Parliament would be either proroged or dissolved by the 12th April [24 days earlier]. Rather unhelpfully, the Parliament website does not give the dates for the 2010 Easter Recess but, taking this year's as a guide, Parliament returned on 20th April 2009 after just under 3 weeks holidays, that is 7 days after Easter Sunday.

Next year, Easter Sunday falls on 4th April, implying that Parliament would return on 12th April.... the last possible date to call the election on 6th May. Are MP's going to go on holiday in late March and just come back for one day to call the election? I just can't see this myself.

If Brown going to wait until after the holidays, why not announce the Poll on the last day of the Parliamentary spring term, which I assume [based on last year's calendar] to be on Thursday 26th March.... indicating a date of 23rd April as the date.

So, my initial gut feel is that Brown will wait until the last day in June and hang-the-consequences or use the Easter Recess to announce the date indicating a mid April poll. St Georges Day.

But what might spoil this analysis? Well, we have local elections on 6th May 2010 but only in those district Councils that elect by thirds... and nowadays they are in a small minority. I don't actually see coincidence with the Locals next May as important as I did.

In my view, The key determinant to spoil the St George's Day polling-day prediction will be the date of the Budget. This year Darling's budget was delivered on the latest date for many years [22nd April] and the date was announced on 12th February... 69 days ahead of time.

My own Man-On-The-Spot tells me that Brown will use the next budget as a last throw of the dice and then go to the Country straight away. In 2008, the budget was delivered on 12th March, over a month earlier than this year. That date was announced on 1st February, just 39 days ahead. I'd say we're looking at an early budget next year.

If you ask me to guess, I'd say that next year's Budget will be on Weds 10th March 2010 [it always seems to be a Wednesday] with Parliament proroged in an elaborate ceremony the following day... with a quick 28 day campaign to Thursday 8th April in Easter Week, when, Brown reasons, all the Tory voters will be on Holiday.

So, forget the 6th May. it's either 8th April or 23rd April.... And I'm piling it on the earlier date! Whatever it is, it's the date of the budget announced at the end of January which will tell us the date of the election.


Alastair said...

Interesting thesis, bunnco - I had come to very different conclusions (especially about the effect of Easter on the timing)! I shall go away and think about your points.


Anonymous said...

If I were Brown I would call a snap GE in Nov, Dec or Jan. Keep turnout down.

Next best thing would be the thursday before easter, as you say, whilst loads of tories and liberals are on holiday.

Labour have got to keep turnout down to avoid wipeout.

Richard Gadsden said...

Local elections do include all the Mets, which isn't many councillors (because the wards are huge), but is a lot of constituencies, mostly Labour-held.

another richard said...

IIRC there are all out elections in the London boroughs next year plus a third of the councillors in the Mets and some districts.

If Labour delays an election they'll likely be hammered everywhere.

If there is an early election then whoever wins will probably clean up afterwards in the locals - see 1992.

If they are on the same day then London will probably see a mixed bag of results but with Labour doing badly in the Mets especially in Yorkshire.

As to wanting to have a budget before the election, that depends on how well the economy is doing. Would Labour really want to downgrade the growth forecast and upgreade the debt forecast immediately before an election campaign?

ROBBIE BOX said...

Brown could always announce the election for the first Thursday in May, well in advance and then recall parliament straight after Easter Monday to push though any outstanding legislation.

Labour still hold control in a number of London boroughs, the timing of previous General Elections has always been favourable for them and they are over represted compared to non Metropolitan areas.

In my view having the election on that day will lead to the loss of many Labour council seats in the capital and other cities because of the higher turnout.

I can't see anyway round it though, as soon as the clocks go forward it's Easter and surely he can't afford to wait until June, Labour would be wiped out in the cites and he would have to campaign again in the aftermath.

If he doesn't go in October this year, and if he's still in the job then it'll be May 6th 2010.

Anonymous said...

Party workers will be hoping that the General Election coincides with the Local Elections next year - 6th May 2010. There are all out elections in London and one third elections elsewhere - probably about half of England in terms of electorates.

I know from experience that holding local elections followed by a General Election a few weeks later (or vice versa) can be very dispiriting for the Party or Parties who do badly in the first elections and can be a cause of complacency for the Party or Parties who did very well.

For these reasons I believe that if Brown stays on to the bitter end, Polling Day is most likely to be 6th May 2010.

Old Hand

James Burdett said...

I disagree I think that a May 6th date is much more likely. Any date in April will be complicated by Easter and whilst they may wish to cancel the budget I don't imagine that they would be realistically able to. The other complication is that 6th May election requires dissolution on the exact day that Parliament would be scheduled to return from Easter recess.

I think budget more likely 17th March followed by a dissolution early the following week and a long campaign.