Labour on election footing

Speculation of an early election poll has intensified with the revelation the Labour party has been placed on election footing.

Party insiders confirmed the prime minister had warned them to prepare for a snap election, with some commentators guessing Gordon Brown may go to the polls as early as October 25.

Labour vice-chairman Martin Salter said: “I can confirm that the party has been put on alert for an early election that could take place as soon as this autumn.”

Mr Brown has already shown a fondness for surprise announcements and in the most dramatic scenario he could announce a general election at the Labour party conference in September.

The resultant election campaign could force the Conservatives to cancel their own conference – further thwarting David Cameron’s ability to highlight the Tory’s policies.

Douglas Alexander has already been publicly appointed to coordinate Labour’s election campaign, while Ed Miliband has been asked to write a manifesto.

However, rumours of an autumn election are cast into serious doubt by Labour’s continued financial problems. Even with the cash for honours affair closed, Labour continues to be in debt.

The prime minister will also be mindful of the wider economy. Some analysts predict rising interest rates have reached a peak and will begin to fall – making an election in 2008 a more attractive prospect.

However, there are also concerns of an economic downturn, which could prompt Mr Brown to go to the polls before risking any economic fallout.

The prime minister has attempted to portray himself as a force for change and opinion polls show voters do associate the prime minister with a new era. An early election would allow him to campaign on his “change” agenda.

Mr Brown has insisted he does not need to face a public vote under the prime ministerial system, but has been vulnerable to accusations that he lacks electoral credibility. An early vote would allow him to seek a mandate while his personal approval ratings remain high.

His popularity is strong at present, contrasted with the abrupt end to Mr Cameron’s honeymoon period.

The Tory leader is currently facing off criticisms from his own backbenchers and grassroots supporters. An autumn election could hit him at his weakest while delaying the poll until 2008 or 2009 could give the Tories times to recover.

Despite this, Mr Cameron has insisted the Conservatives are ready to fight an election.

Sir Menzies Campbell, facing questions himself over his leadership capabilities, maintains the Liberal Democrats are also ready to go to the polls.

The Lib Dem leader estimated there was a one in six chance of a poll this autumn.