Senior Labour figures are discounting the idea of a general election in March or April with expectations now increasingly focussed on a May 6 poll.
That means a March Budget before the Easter break, according to Treasury insiders, with campaigning to begin in earnest when MP return from their holiday.
One government whip said that May 6 was now the assumption around which the party was working. This was confirmed by a senior union source, who told me the chances of a March poll were “no chance or even less”. An April election was feasible but still unlikely unless the economic data showed a sudden recovery, he said.
Meanwhile James Kirkup at the Telegraph has the amusing story that Chris Bryant – junior Foreign Office minister – blurted out the May 6 date yesterday while discussing Venezuelan relations at a thinktank event.
Not only do activists dislike campaigning when the evenings are still dark, but they also want to avoid the possibility of fighting an unsuccessful general election and then coming out again for council elections in May.
“Getting people out twice, doing two lots of literature and dealing with two lots of deadlines, the only the whole idea always seemed a bit silly,” said Ann Black, a vice-chair of Labour’s national executive committee.
Another well-placed MP said there had been no tell-tale signs that an earlier election was expected.
“The party is generally prepared for an early election should it happen, but I just don’t get any sense of it at all,” he said. “In May we’ll get out councillors, their families and their friends, to campaign at a local and national level.”
Ken Purchase, MP for Wolverhampton North East, told me he could “barely think of a good reason” why the election should be held in March 25, as suggested in some quarters. “May is the best time, the weather is decent, you can get out and get canvassing done,” he said.
Gordon Brown appeared to hint on the BBC Andrew Marr Show a week ago that there would be a spring Budget, leading many viewers to assume a May election. The last possible date for the poll is June 3.
The timing of the Budget is constrained by the need for a minimum three-month period after the December 9 pre-Budget report.
Alistair Darling also needs to allow time to get a finance bill enacting PBR and Budget measures onto the statute book before Parliament is dissolved ahead of the election.
The chancellor has yet to make a final decision on when to hold what could be the last Budget of the Labour administration. But government insiders are pencilling in March 10 or 17 as the most likely.