Gordon Brown has said he will not call a general election this autumn.

The PM said he wanted a chance to show the country his “vision for change” and to develop his policies further. ~BBC News

Via Alex Massie

Considering the talk less than two weeks ago that Labour regarded playing up the possibility of a snap election as a smart move that might end up destroying the Tories, the decision is remarkable.  As Nelson recounted before the Blackpool conference, a “Labour insider” told him:

We want this to be the end for the Tories. The talk about an early election is a gamble for us: if it focuses their minds, they may unify. But my money is on them thinking they have already lost, and starting to kick each other to death. 

Apparently they have kicked the habit of kicking one another to death.  As it happens, they unified and they have given the impression that they think they can win an election (they may be bluffing, but they are bluffing very convincingly).  Massie points us to this to explain Brown’s decision.  The move was described by the political editor of SkyNews as “one of the worst blows to a serving prime minister that I can remember in quarter of a century of covering politics.”  So that’s pretty bad, then, since that period would also include such impressive disasters as Thatcher’s poll tax fiasco and Black Wednesday.  Brown can take heart–it’s just “one of” the worst, not the worst overall.  

No general election means two more years during which pundits and pols can bash Brown for being an “unelected” leader.  Granted, no one should underestimate Tory capacity for self-destruction and fratricide, but something seems different this time.  It is irrational, but people respond well to shows of confidence regardless of substance or policy (this is why I’m afraid that Americans remained supportive of Mr. Bush long after reason should have told them to flee from him in droves).  Delaying the general election might have been technically the right tactical move, if there were going to be significant losses, but the symbolism of it is deadly for any ruling party.  Brown has effectively declared to all that he has no confidence in his party or his government, and this just a short time after he and his partisans apparently believed themselves to be on the verge of an historic knockout.     

It appears that my earlier post about “the lost leader” was timed correctly–it was just aimed at the wrong leader.

Update: It’s not just marginal districts, but the entire country that has turned on Labour.  This may be only temporary, but the Tories have enjoyed a 14-point swing to pull 3 ahead of Labour in the space of one week.  I know that public opinion can be fickle, but this is ridiculous. 

Forsyth writes at Spectator‘s Coffee House blog:

He is being denounced as weak by all and sundry while his reputation for straight-talking is in tatters. Never again will his opponents cower in front of him.

Opinion at The Guardian is no more favourable:

This will prompt a reassessment of the prime minister that will not be to his advantage. The one thing that everyone, friend or foe, reckoned that they knew about Mr Brown was that he was brilliant at politics. Whatever else they have thought about him, his enemies have always regarded him as awesome at the game. His allies have often described him as a grandmaster of political chess, a strategist so clever that he is able to look ahead a dozen moves. And yet by this weekend, the Prime Minister had got himself into a terrible position on the board. Here was a grandmaster who had managed to put himself into check.

In the same spirit as some of my remarks above, Nelson has dubbed today Brown’s “Black Saturday.”

The Scotsman editorialises that Brown has been “irreparably damaged.”