Golden Brown formally announced his intention to stand for the labour leadership today, meeting 'faithful Labour supporters'(source). I appreciate that at the moment he is trying to appeal to the Labour Party member, but surely he must also recognise that he must not fall into the trap of only appealing to them. Blair hardly ever gave interviews, and press conferences were often tightly controlled. This meant that he was rarely caught out. This also meant that every time he spoke, the impression was of a staged event. Compare the BBC 'have your say' discussing Blair's legacy with the audience Blair has been seeing recently. It could be a different country. Blair no longer has to worry about this disconnect, if he ever did, but Brown should. After all, it's only a couple of years until a general election.
His second engagement today was also a managed event in front of the faithful.
If Brown is to connect with the non-labour member, then he must be sure to talk to real people, take some of the curve balls thrown his way, and show that he can address those issues. To do otherwise is to ignore what is concerning the people who will ultimately decide his fate. If he spends the next 7 weeks, and then the next two years, only publicly meeting people who, presumably, would vote for a turnip if you put a red rosette on it, then there is no way at all he will win the confidence of a public upset with spin.
It was a good sign today that when Jack Straw intervened to end press questions, Brown indicated that he wanted to carry on... however, after so many years of spin there is the thought that even that may have been thought through in advance.
The prime minister is the UK is not voted for by the people. We vote for our representative, and the leader of the parliamentary group able to do so forms a government. That parliamentary group can decide to change their leader should they wish to. To the surprise of people outside the UK (and some within) a general election is not necessary. We didn't have an election when John major became Prime Minister, for example. Regardless of that, there is a feeling that a change of PM without a confirmation from the populace would cause resentment, and many feel that Brown should go to the country should he become PM. A failure to do so could well come back to bite Brown in a couple of years. However, an election called in seven weeks would be just as bad for him as people wouldn't have had the chance to warm to Golden Brown (despite his being one of the most powerful politicians in the UK for around for a decade).
Brown must call an election by 2010. Elections are usually called after four years, i.e. 2009, however, by this time speculation would be growing and there is an element of time pressure and being forced to set a date.
So, assuming that he doesn't decide that an election is unwinnable, and that he wants to be seen to gain a mandate in his own right, 2008 may be an election year. I'd be amazed (and, to be honest, impressed) with 2007.
Personally, I'd be surprised if we saw an election before 2009, for me, this'd confirm the 'hanging on for as long as possible' opinion.
I wouldn't be surprised by 2010.