In what might be a defining stand-off, the prime minister loses the battle of nerves with his young Tory rival, David Cameron, and decides against an early election. What helped the Conservatives? A pledge to cut inheritance tax in a country where a large number of people's wealth rests on their parents' homes:

The Observer can reveal that [Brown] decided to act after Labour's private polls showed a severe drop in the party's support in key marginal constituencies after the Tories pledged to exempt properties worth less than £1m from inheritance tax. The findings are confirmed in a News of the World opinion poll today, which found that the pledge by the shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, is so popular that Labour was on course to lose its parliamentary majority. The ICM poll of 83 key marginal seats found the Tories leading Labour by 44 per cent to 38 per cent. This would have led to the loss of 49 seats, including Redditch, which is held by the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, creating a hung Parliament.

Low taxes are what the right is ultimately about, and it's good to see Cameron keeping his nerve (although I'd prefer cuts in marginal rates than inheritance). Lower spending is what they need to get a handle on (which is much less of a problem for the British Tories than the spendthrift Republicans). Meanwhile, it's hard to begrudge some Tory triumphalism:

The whole point of Mr Brown is that he is meant to be square-jawed, implacable, remorseless, unstoppable. He is, after all, the author of a (very good) book entitled Courage.

Now it turns out that he might be what I gather in Scotland is called a "feartie": a wuss, a girly-man, the Coward of the County (the county in this case being Fife, rather than somewhere in Texas as in the Kenny Rogers original).

(Photo: Peter MacDiarmid/Getty.)

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