Is there a British equivalent of the phrase Monday-morning quarterbacking? Because pundits in the U.K. are slamming their new Prime Minister for a high-profile punt. Gordon Brown, who took over from fellow Labour Party member Tony Blair in June without a vote at the polls, was widely expected to call a snap election this fall to secure a new five-year term. Party chiefs were so sure the well-received Brown would seek a fresh mandate that they had drawn up detailed campaign plans and taken on extra staff to carry them out. Donors were tapped for additional funds. Constituents mulled their options. All that remained was for Brown to take the short drive from Downing Street to Buckingham Palace and ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament. He was expected to do so on Oct. 9 to set up an election for Nov. 1.
Which is why many a jaw dropped when Brown declared on Oct. 6 that there would not be an election this year or even in 2008. The Prime Ditherer said he wanted to "get on with the business of change in this country." But in the days leading up to his surprise announcement, surveys had hinted that voters might indeed want change--from Labour to its closest rival, the Conservative Party. And although most pundits believe Labour would have won a majority, the fear of losing made Brown blink. Now his party is bracing for a backlash. "It's a question of character," says a Labour insider. Party members also shudder remembering how in 1978, Prime Minister James Callaghan--who was ahead in the polls and seemed poised to win his own mandate--unexpectedly shied away from calling elections. Early in 1979, he lost a confidence motion and was forced to go to the polls. His opponent, Margaret Thatcher, led her party to victory and an 18-year stretch in office.