At around 9.30 this morning, the GDP figures for the last quarter of 2009 will be released, and many expect them to show a return to growth. To be fair many were expecting it last time as well and it didn't happen, so it may yet not happen. However, if it does show growth, it could be just the ticket for pushing Gordon Brown into a February/March polling day.
For a start, he will have to consider the Christmas Factor. People spend at Christmas time, especially if shops are slashing prices because of a recession, then they stop spending in the next few months as they tighten their belts after their yearly splurge. The risk Gordon faces, if he goes for May and not for February/March, is that during April the figures for the first quarter come out and show the dreaded "double dip".
Suddenly Brown and Labour will be stuck. He must go to the polls by June, and there will be no further GDP figures to come before a polling day that might show an upward trend in the third quarter. Of course they might not show the double dip, but it remains a risk,especially when some economists are saying that even if growth returns for the last quarter of 2009, it won;t be sustainable into the first of 2010.
We all know that Gordon is risk averse. Is he more likely to take the risk of the figures going wrong during April; or take what he's got and campaign for a February/March poll on a platform of "Labour steered the way through recession and to recovery"? Then, of course, there is another factor, the Chilcot YABII.
Gordon Brown has said he will appear before the Chilcot Inquiry before the General Election. The Chilcot Inquiry has already said it will recess to avoid running during a period of high political activity that goes with a General Election. The thing is, the Inquiry, like everyone else, is working on the assumption of a May poll.
If, Gordon decides to go to the polls in March - say the beginning - he's going to have to make an announcement and ask for Parliament to be dissolved by the Crown in little over a week. If he does that, and manages to hold out confirming a date for Chilcot until that day, then Chilcot will have no choice but to go into recess, and Brown will not have to face the inquiry before the election.
According to the Guardian, the current thinking is that Brown will appear before Chilcot "towards the end of [February], or at the beginning of March". Would Brown take the risk of a backlash of not appearing before the election for an early election to cover his arse should the GDP figures dip again in April? Well.. this is the man who called off an election and then brazenly claimed it had nothing to do with the polls.
Who thinks he won't sit there and say "I have nothing to hide from the Inquiry and I will still face it, I just took he decision that it was the right time for the people of Britain to decide on the future of our country"?
It's a cliché to say "beware the Ides of March" but if the GDP figures show growth, the risk of "double dip" in April might just outweigh the negative backlash of not appearing before Chilcot before an election. Once an election is called the news cycle will move fast, any claims of him running scared from the Inquiry will be tomorrow's chip paper at double speed.
Of course, this is all pie in the sky if GDP doesn't show growth.
Meanwhile, let's remember for a minute how many times they got it wrong with GMTV Guy News special.
Note: From a betting point of view, I slapped a few quid on the election being before May a few days ago.
UPDATE: Economy grows by a whopping 0.1%. Let's see what Gordon does now.