The man reading Sporting Life over a pint of Guinness had been looking at me out of the corner of his eye, and, as I was about to leave the pub, he sidled over.
“Excuse me – aren’t you that MP fella?” I pleaded guilty as charged, and thought about owning up to membership of the Shadow Cabinet as well, so he could consider all my offences at the same time, before pronouncing sentence.
“I want to know when Gordon’s going to call the election.” he told me. I said I had more than a passing interest in the answer to the question - which my agent kept on asking - and said it would probably be in May. I added quickly that my fleet-footed troops were ready to go at any time (in case he was a spy from an enemy camp).
“Why won’t he go in February?” “Not a great month for canvassing” I replied looking at the snow outside, “and he is unlikely to make up the ground between now and then. Ted Heath tried it in February and came unstuck. Besides, Gordon didn’t go early when he was ahead in 2007, so why should he go early in 2010 when he’s behind?”
For reasons that were not clear, he consulted Sporting Life before asking “What about March?” “A possibility” I replied. “But he has said there is going to be a Budget, and that cannot be until after March 9th. That doesn’t leave much time to dissolve and have an election.”
“What about April?” “Could be messy” I replied “We have local elections on May 6th – and Easter in the middle. You would have two campaigns going on at the same time. A nightmare for the agents.”
“And June?” “Yes, that would be right up against the buffers. But coming after the local elections on May 6th, there is a risk of voter fatigue. And if he does badly in the locals, that’s not a great springboard for the general.
After this lengthy psephological exchange about polling day, I thought I might risk sounding him out about his own intentions.
“Will you be influencing the outcome of this election, whatever the date on which it is held?” I asked cautiously
He looked at me scornfully “Hell no, I won’t be wasting my time by voting – you lot are all the same”
“Why then “ I asked “this healthy interest in the date of the poll?”
“I’m think of having a bet on the date with Paddy Power. I can get 12 to 1 against April, whereas May is 4 to 1 on.”