The train from Hexham to Newcastle was packed full of commuters and Christmas shoppers. I met Anne-Marie Trevelyan and others for lunch in Newcastle and there was much talk as to whether Brown will have an early election. We all agreed that with Mandelson now pulling the strings in Downing Street anything can happen. Brown’s famous sense of risk avoidance in matters political may be overruled by Mandelson. If Brown calls it on the earliest proposed date of February 26th 2009 then we will be ready for the fight. If it is not the spring then it will be either June 4th [when the European and local elections are held nationwide], at some date in the Autumn or May 2010. All agreed that Brown was displaying classic signs of the bunker mentality - involving a reluctance to admit anything he has ever done was wrong and an increased detachment from reality. I am torn between my desire for Brown to continue to do such a terrible job - thereby increasing the electorate's desire to get rid of him - and my genuine fear that he is doing untold harm to the economy and our long term prospects as a nation. You talk to businessmen and all agree things are going to get a lot worse in 2009 and that the cut in VAT has helped not a jot. I know from our family business that lending is the key: without bank lending being guaranteed we will struggle even more - on this issue Cameron has got it right for sure.