UK politics General election in autumn?

There is a lot of volatility in Westminster at the moment, and a lot that can happen in a relatively short period of time. I had thought it very unlikely that a general election in the UK would be called this year, but I am no longer sure. In fact, I feel that there is a distinct possibility that there will be a momentum making the current government’s (and parliament’s) position untenable. Labour had hoped to keep going until the very last day, waiting for the economy to recover in early 2010, but the current expenses row has placed them in a dangerous position.

If readers’ comments left on newspaper sites and a number of blogs were an accurate reflection of the mood in Britain, a general election would be called now. There is a strong desire among the voters to start with a new parliament. Many people do not trust that current MPs can really clean up the system, since a number of MPs are implicated in the expenses scandal.

There are many issues and events that could force the government’s hands and a general election becomes almost inevitable, but a combination of the following three will make it almost impossible for the government to continue. First, the local and European elections may deal a mortal blow to Mr Brown’s premiership. Second, the expenses problem will become graver, and deprives the current parliament of legitimacy. Third, the economic situation becomes even worse, and the government will be blamed for it.

Labour will lose badly in the upcoming local and European elections, and if some of the polls are to be believed, Labour may come behind UKIP in the share of the vote. That will be disastrous, and it may persuade Mr Brown to resign: the Labour party will have a tough time explaining why the British electorate should accept a second prime minster who has not won a general election.

At the moment, a dozen MPs or so have decided to stand down at the next election, and depending on further revelations, that number is likely to go up. The pressure on the MPs who have decided not to seek re-election may increase, and they may have to resign before then, especially if they have committed a crime, not merely accused of doing something unethical. The furore over the pay-off may futher infuriate the voters, and a number of MPs were to go, then there will be a huge momentum to start anew. After so many resignations and therefore by-elections, calls for a general election will only become louder.

If the economy worsens markedly over the summer, and the government’s over-optimistic forecasts prove hopelessly wrong, then social tension will rise. A spike in unemployment or deflation could become very evident this summer. If the government loses control over law and order, or becomes draconian, because of social unrest, then it probably cannot go on since it is blamed for the recession.

In the end, the government and the Labour party may lose nerve or lose the will to continue, and it could be a very minor issue, something innocuous, that (finally) brings down the government.

I have the habit of trusting the bookies more than the opinion polls, mostly because the bookies have a very strong fiancial incentive to get it right. At the moment, they still think the next general election will be held in 2010. However, all of the above makes me think it’s worth putting down a tenner on the general election taking place in the autumn – PaddyPower, for example, is offering 11/4.