Tories prepare to fight early election

The Conservatives are drawing up contingency plans to prepare for a snap general election.

In a leaked memo, party chairwoman Caroline Spelman told party activists an election could be called any time from early September 2007 and warned local party branches to have candidates and campaign literature in place.

The Conservatives are eager not to be caught on the defensive in the event of an early poll and Ms Spelman told activists they must be prepared to hit the ground running.

She wrote: “The first 72 hours are very important so start to draw up a list of activities to give your campaign a fast start”.

The memo comes amid mounting speculation Gordon Brown will call an early general election to capitalise on public support at the start of his premiership.

The prime minister has done little to dispel rumours he could go to the polls as early as October, although Labour and Conservative MPs think a spring election is more likely.

In a sign of the growing sleeper campaign, David Cameron returns from his holiday in France today for a visit to Worthing Hospital.

He will meet with NHS staff and a patient to argue Labour’s multi-billion investment in the NHS has failed to translate into improved services.

The tax and spend agenda is also shaping up as a key election battleground. Last week, the Tory policy group led by John Redwood argued for £12 billion worth of tax cuts.

Labour claimed the recommendations marked a shift to the right in the Conservative party and would amount to cuts to public services.

Yesterday writing for the Mail on Sunday, shadow chancellor George Osborne retaliated that Labour are “scared of a proper debate on tax”.

The prime minister will meet with his election team – headed by Cabinet minister Douglas Alexander and Ed Miliband alongside party general secretary Peter Watt and advisor Jon Mendelsohn – next month to discuss the election timetable.

With Mr Cameron out of the country, Mr Brown has seen his poll lead rise to as much as ten points amid praise for his handling of the foot and mouth outbreak, flooding and terror alerts.

Labour’s election war chest also received a major boost over the weekend with the news the union Unite has set aside £26 million to fund a general election.

The odds of an early poll had appeared to be shortened by the news Labour’s National Executive Committee was £20 million in debt.