The Tories have been worrying away about the possibility of a March election giving Gordon Brown an element of surprise.
Now George Osborne's backroom team have found a reason to stop worrying unless, that is, Gordon Brown wants to go to the country without having a Budget.
The date of the Pre-Budget Report was announced today as 9th of December. The Code for Fiscal Stability which Gordon Brown put into law in 1998, states that there must be "at least three months" between the Pre-Budget Report and the following Budget.
Thus, the earliest possible date for a 2010 Budget is the 9th of March. That is after the latest possible date - 1st of March - on which Gordon Brown could call a March election.
The Treasury civil servants are all working towards a spring Budget and Brown would be pilloried if he went to the country without telling voters what economic horrors might lie ahead.
So, it looks like we're back to May which is, incidentally, where I've always assumed we'd be.
I'm not so sure about that, but before we get to that, let's look at what this Code for Fiscal Stability actually says...
The Code for Fiscal Stability, introduced in legislation by Gordon Brown in 1998, states that there must be “at least three months” between the Pre-Budget Report and the following Budget.
The only exceptions are:
a) If the Budget is the first Budget of the Parliament, which is not true in this case.
b) If there is more than one Budget in any financial year, in which case only one PBR is required – in other words a second PBR is not needed 3 months before the second Budget, but the PBR must still be at least three months before the first Budget in the financial year.
“If, as is usual, there is only one Budget in a financial year, the Treasury shall publish a Pre-Budget Report (PBR) at least three months prior to it, unless this is the first Budget of the Parliament, in which case a PBR shall not be required. In addition, if there is more than one Budget in any financial year, only one PBR shall be required.” (HM Treasury, Code for Fiscal Stability, Paragraph 15).
Of course, one thing which Nick Robinson and George Osborne's backroom team seem to have overlooked is that it is entirely possible, in theory, for the Prime Minister to hold a March election and then delay a budget until mid to late April, just as he did this year. Politically that would be highly dangerous as the Conservatives would say that it showed the government was afraid to hold a budget for fear of revealing the parlous state of the economy. But it's possible to imagine they could just about get away with it. It would be brazen, risky, full of downsides, but I can just imagine Peter Mandelson arguing for it.
Unlike Nick Robinson, I have never believed that the election will necessarily be held on May 6th. The big disadvantage of that date from the government's point of view is that only a few days earlier people will have received much lighter pay packets than they are used to. This is because last year's tax rise announcements come into force in April 2010. Would you really want to hold an election with that as a backdrop?
So my bet has always been on June 3rd or April 15th or March 25th. Which, given my record on predictions, means it will definitely be May 6th!