( AFP ) - British voters are likely to go to the polls in mid-2009, one of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's closest allies indicated in an interview published Saturday.
Ed Balls, Brown's long-time economic adviser when he was finance minister and now children, schools and families secretary, suggested to the Daily Telegraph a vote would be held in 18 months' time.
The minister, often referred to as Brown's "other brain" and "the deputy chancellor" during his boss's former role, said the governing Labour Party had taken a hit in recent months, particularly over an early election U-turn.
But he added: "You can talk about cancelled elections until the cows come home, but no-one out there is. It has not been a big issue for the public.
"I don't think it will have any impact on the general election result in a year-and-a-half's time."
Brown, who took over from Tony Blair in June, does not have to call a general election until May 2010 at the latest but had been expected to capitalise on his early popularity by calling a vote for last November.
But he ruled out an early poll, despite widespread briefing to the contrary by his trusted aides, just as a newspaper opinion poll of key marginal seats suggested he would lose his parliamentary majority if a vote was called.
Brown rejected accusations from opposition parties that he had lost his nerve and has since taken hits in the polls from the global credit crisis, the government's loss of sensitive personal data and a new party funding scandal.