For a good while now, I’ve thought that FF would use the next budget as a platform for the election. They would fight the election campaign on the basis of the detail of the budget and force the opposition to produce (at short notice and without immediate access to the resources of the Department of Finance) their counter proposals. It allows FF to get the agenda on the economy and to make the election be about the 2010 budget rather than the overall budgetary strategy over the next 5 years.
The FF electoral strategy at the next general election, whenever it would be, has to be to ensure that they finish within Labour of a majority i.e. that the seat totals of the two parties adds up to 84 (83 if they can get someone from outside their numbers to be Ceann Comhairle) or worst case that they have enough seats combined with the right people to be able to convincingly challenge for that outcome at the next election. That has always been the case, but now FF might be realising that going now might not be any worse or better than holding on to pass two harsh budgets and past the point once the full effects of the measures already pass have been felt by the public at large.
I think we are getting close to that situation now, preparations for the budget would (in the broad outline form at least) be reasonably well advanced by now by the department of Finance – it’s around now that the old Book of Estimates would be produced. Exactly what the individual departments would think of their allocation would not be known, but it might even allow for ministers to claim this program or that initiative might be spared. So if the election were called at some stage in the next few weeks, the election could take place then the Dail resume and elect a Taoiseach but then this new government is pretty much be stuck with the outgoing governments figures as happened in 1987!
The stumbling block for the main government party might be that the opposition don’t allow them to conduct a leadership contest before calling an election but rather force a vote in the Oireachtas and collapse the government with no leader in place.