So it is official, the economy just squeaked out of recession in the final quarter of 2009 growing by 0.1% according to the official figures released today. Of course that is good news although the UK is the last country in the G20 to do so.
Mike Smithson asked this morning whether it could make a difference to the date of the election. His reasoning is that as we are now in recovery the narrative from Labour will be that they steered us out of recession *and* managed to keep unemployment low. The most likely date for the next election is May 6th (to coincide with local elections in some parts of the country) but the economic figures for the current quarter are due out on April 23rd. If we were to find that we had dipped back into negative growth in the first quarter of 2010 just days before a general election that would be devastating to Labour and their electoral prospects.
It could happen. The end of the 15% VAT rate is likely to have boosted economic activity towards the end of 2009 and the restoration of the 17.5% rate at the start of 2010 could have the opposite effect. The growth last quarter is only 0.1% against an overall drop of 6% since the start of the recession. It therefore would not take much to tip us back into negative territory.
During the period just before "The election that never was" in autumn 2007, Ed Balls made the comment that the bigger risk at that stage was not going to the electorate. His basic point was that things were likely to get worse for Labour electorally and the position then might be a high water mark although he did not say it in those terms (and he was spot on). We are now potentially in a similar position again. Although Labour is much further behind now than it was in 2007 it could again be as good as it gets for them. In fact the end of the recession could give them a little electoral fillip although we won't know that for 2 or 3 weeks.
There are other reasons why an earlier election would make sense for Labour. It would mean Brown would not need to go before the Iraq inquiry until after the election. It would mean Labour did not have to have a budget as well and given the negative response to the PBR in December this could be another headache for them were they to have to do it.
In fact the more I think about it, the more it would seem that a truly brave Prime Minister would come back from Northern Ireland this afternoon and go straight to see the Queen to ask for a dissolution of parliament. He would catch his opponents on the hop and would be hoping to ride the wave of increased optimism in the economy that this morning's news could bring. He may even get some kudos for seizing the initiative and going a few months before he had to.
Of course up until now, Gordon Brown has not shown that he has that sort of courage.
Will he surprise us all?