Hutton fuels speculation of snap election

Gordon Brown is in a “very strong position now” to beat David Cameron, a senior cabinet member has told the FT, in comments that will fuel speculation the prime minister could call a snap general election.

“We’ve shown our competence as a government, undeniably, and we’re strongly united as a party ... so all of the signals are positive for us,” John Hutton, the business secretary, said on Wednesday in an interview with the FT.

“The government’s in a very strong position now and the Conservatives are in a very bad position.” He signally failed to reject a suggestion this meant it was a good time for Labour to go to the country, saying: “Well ... that’s a matter for the prime minister.”

Mr Brown told a political strategy meeting of his cabinet he was keeping his options open on the election timing. This strategy is designed in part to destabilise the Tories, who have to prepare for a poll that could come at any time between next month and the spring of 2010.

But his decision to keep a snap poll on the cards – albeit as an unlikely prospect – also reflects optimism within government about the relative state of the parties.

Mr Brown has been boosted by a trio of opinion polls, including an ICM survey giving Labour an eight-point lead over the Tories. A separate Populus poll suggested the Northern Rock crisis has not damaged voters’ perception of the government’s economic competence.

The political cabinet, held to finalise preparations for next week’s Labour conference, heard presentations from Douglas Alexander, the cabinet member charged with election co-ordination, and Deborah Mattison, the pollster.

Mr Hutton characterised the mood of the meeting as very upbeat. “People are very, very positive about the situation we’re in but we all of us understand that if we’re to be re-elected we’ve got to earn that right to govern.”

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