The Brown Bottle
After months of "Brown Bounce" we now have the Cameron bounce, and the Brown Bottle as the prime minister has decided not to call an election.
The main reason that Brown comes out badly from his decision to back down from calling an election is not the fact that he chose not to go to the country.
If he had called a November poll, Labour might quite possibly have lost, and I am 100% certain that we would have made a real contest of it. The national Tory machine was geared up and ready to go, publicity material would have been ready to print at the touch of a button five minutes after Brown went to the palace , candidates are in place and working in almost all the marginals and our manifesto was ready too.
The policies on which we would have fought an election campaign plans were a balance of traditional Tory themes and an appeal to the centre. For example, taking ordinary families out of the net of death duties with the slogan "Only millionaires should pay inheritance tax" and funding this by imposing a £25,000 charge on those who have chosen pay tax abroad, which for many of them will be petty cash. The rich can afford the charge: those who can't afford it can opt to pay tax in the UK instead of abroad: the net effect of the package is to remove a greatly resented imposition on ordinary families and fund it my closing a loophole which mostly benefitted very rich foreigners
The fact that Brown chose not to trigger the contest now, when he has a good working majority and no need to call an election before 2010, is not of itself an issue.
However, what has damaged his authority is that he allowed his close lieutenants such as Ed Balls to hype up the prospect of an election, took a whole range of actions such as bringing forward the public spending review and announcing a troop reduction in Iraq in the middle of the Conservative conference which looked like preparation for an election, and then backed down after three days of bad opinion polls.
It's not the fact that he didn't call an election that looks cowardly and incompetent, it's the fact that he didn't squash the speculation that he was about to go to the country until it was obvious that he would have a real contest on his hands if he did. That's why I think the "Bottler Brown" charge has some substance and will stick.
The other damage which this affair does to Labour is that they can no longer plausibly argue that David Cameron is so lightweight that the "Great Clunking Fist" Brown has no need whatever to fear him.
Brown has just proved conclusively by his actions, which speak much louder than his words, that he takes the challenge from David Cameron sufficiently seriously to wish to pick the time for the contest carefully. If Brown had as low an opinion of David Cameron as he pretends, Tuesday would have been the first day of an election campaign.
I was not quite old enough to vote when Labour prime minister Jim Callaghan played a similar game in Autumn 1978 and left the country "waiting at the church." We may never know whether Brown's handling of the decision not to call an election this week was as bad a mistake. But we can be certain that it has damaged his position