Next June could present an “ideal” opportunity for Gordon Brown to call a general election, according to a close ally of the Prime Minister.
Charlie Whelan, a former press secretary to Mr Brown, predicted Labour would by then be ahead of the Tories in the polls.
His comments appeared in a column for the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald, published in the Scottish Highlands where Mr Whelan has a second home.
It will encourage speculation that senior Labour figures are keeping their options open for a 2009 election, despite Mr Brown’s insistence that he is not giving it any thought. Number 10 is desperate to avoid any repeat of last autumn’s election U-turn, which came after Mr Brown failed to shut down talk of a poll among his supporters.
Mr Whelan, the political director of the Unite union, wrote: “The big question is, will there be a general election? We have the Euro elections in June and this could be an ideal opportunity for the prime minister to go to the country.
“In May Gordon Brown will be hosting the world economic summit in Britain, and with the new president of America, Barack Obama, in town, there is bound to be wall-to-wall media coverage.
“David Cameron will be lucky to get a look-in. In any event, the current Tory economic strategy of doing nothing will by then probably see them behind in the polls”.
Mr Whelan dismissed suggestions that the Government could not win an election during a recession, pointing out John Major’s Tories had done so in 1992. Former Labour leader Lord Kinnock said a 2009 poll could not be ruled out, but that 2010 was far more likely. And shadow foreign secretary William Hague said he believed Mr Brown would hang on to the bitter end.
Mr Hague told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show: “Gordon Brown has a simple terror of facing the electorate and I think he can’t overcome that to the very end.”
Lord Kinnock said Mr Brown was concentrating on the economic situation, but admitted that he must also be keeping the question of the election date in mind.
“I’m not saying elections are absent from his consideration,” said Lord Kinnock. “He is a politician and you would expect him to think in terms of elections.
“But I do know that it is a long way down his list of priorities.”
Lord Kinnock said he believed by the start of 2010 the economy should be moving into recovery, with employment figures rising.