The mainstream media has been feverishly speculating about the possibility that Gordon Brown will call an election this Autumn.
All the main political parties seem keen to stoke the rumours, too. But that is only so that they can tap their richer donors for early cash. Cash now will enable them to set up their call centres and campaign headquarters, and to send out more target letters and surveys to find out how each punter in a marginal seat might vote and what might influence him or her to vote their way.
But take it from me: the date for the next General Election will be Thursday, 7 May 2009.
I will eat my hat if Brown goes to the country before then. He has no reason to call an election any earlier. His term lasts till May 2010 if he wishes. Conventional wisdom suggests that he should go a year earlier if he is in a good position in the polls, as his room for manoeuvre would steadily decrease over the course of the following year - much as John Major's did in 1991-92.
It would be silly for him to risk an election this year, and his reputation for being a man of fairly sound judgement would be gone forever. Unlike Wilson in 1970, he would not survive to become Prime Minister a second time, and would go down in history as the most feeble PM since Goderich. (He is unlikely to be the feeblest ever, poor Goderich having resigned in tears after a few months in 1827, forcing the King to accept Canning, who was anathema to him.)
And why am I convinced that the election will be on 7 May 2009?
Because that is the day when many Liberal Democrat and Tory activists up and down the land will be defending their County Council seats. Therefore, they won't have so much time to travel to their nearest marginal Westminster constituency to campaign. Meanwhile many urban Labour Metropolitan Councillors will not be fighting elections in their own back yard, so WILL be able to travel.
Maggie won all her elections on County Council election day - when her main threat was not the far left Labour Party, but rural Liberal and SDP activists getting together to fight marginal Tory seats as if they were by-elections. 'Twas ever thus with a system which enables to PM of the day to choose the timing of an election. It spares us the two year build up they have over, say, a Presidential election in the USA, but at the expense of giving the incumbent a huge advantage.
Mr Brown will not want to squander that advantage.