And so it begins - Election 2010 is on

So, Gordon Brown is finally going to do it, at almost the last possible date before the parliament expires. An election is to be called. Finally - thought it'd never happen. Despite May 6th being long touted as the most likely date, today it will be confirmed. Until it happens, the rolling news will have lots of shots of front doors with talking heads saying things like 'Gordon Brown is expected to....' repeatedly. At least that'll be over soon.

We've now got a month of campaigning ahead, at least that'll put an end to the last two years of phony campaigning.

There is a danger in the next week that legislation will slip through in a 'mopping up period' without the proper debate in parliament (not that this is great at the best of times). The opposition parties can earn many brownie points by keeping a focus on parliament whilst it still sits - to be able to demonstrate that the interest of country is ahead of party.

There will be a lot of polls in the next month. Remember that polls are typically 1000 people, so this will give an error of roughly 3%, with 95% certainty. I.e. 19 times out of 20, the polls are within 3% of the 'true' number. This means that a freak result will happen for 1 poll in 20. This also means that a change of less than 3% from poll to poll is not significant. Any newspaper which proclaims 'Party surges 2% in polls' is being disingenuous (at best). Repeated changes on the other hand are significant, so watch for the trends.

For the benefit of those outside the UK:

  • Parliament sits for up to five years.
  • The Queen is the head of state - but doesn't play a public role in politics. She has a veto over any legislation, but has never exercised it.
  • The Queen takes an active interest in the affairs of state, and has a weekly meeting with the Prime Minister (PM). Past PMs claim that this is valuable, as the Queen has a broad knowledge and understanding from her position
  • The Prime Minister can call an election at any time in that five years, and asks the Queen to dissolve parliament when he wants to kickstart the election. That is what is happening today.
  • If the Prime Minister loses the confidence of Members of Parliament (MPs), they can oust him - this can mean the PM changes without an election. E.g. When Thatcher was replaced by Major, this was an ousting.
  • Sometimes a PM steps aside (as with Blair and Brown). This does not trigger an election, as the vote is for the MP, not the leader.
  • The person who can command the confidence of parliament (usually the party leader with the majority) becomes the Prime Minister, and is asked by the Queen to form a government.
  • If there is no clear majority (a hung parliament), it is not as clear who would be asked to form a government. The parties would negotiate a coalition, and the Queen would ask someone to form a government based on the result of that negotiation.

Racing Diary have a post relaying the latest odds.

WILLIAM HILL have cut their odds for the Conservatives to win the next General Election with an overall majority from 8/11 to 8/13, and lengthened the odds for a Hung Parliament from 11/8 to 6/4. Labour are out from 13/2 to 8/1 to win with a clear majority and the Lib Dems 300/1. Gordon Brown is 3/1 to be PM in a minority government, with David Cameron 10/3 to end up likewise.