Mr Ashdown said: "The economy is going to look much better as a promise in October than it will as a reality in the spring . . . All the ingredients of another boom and bust cycle are in place."
Telling party officials to bring forward general election planning, he said: "Westminster is full of talk of a 'beef election'. A senior Conservative said to me yesterday, 'At last, we've got something to say . . . we can go to the people in the autumn on a Who Runs Britain - Westminster or Brussels? ticket'."
Tory party sources have already made clear that the Prime Minister does not think he can run an election campaign on the beef issue, and would prefer to hold on until 1 May next year.
One of the drier sources said: "If we went to the country asking, 'Who Runs Britain?' I think the answer we would get would be 'Tony Blair'."
However, election fever was also stoked yesterday by the launch of the national campaign to encourage tactical voting, called Grot - Get Rid Of Them. It's co-chair Bruce Kent, former head of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and a former Labour candidate, published a list of 79 target Tory seats where Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters would be urged to vote for the candidate of whichever party was best-placed to win.
"Of course many voters are intensely loyal to a party, but where that party has no realistic hope of winning the seat, the only way to make their vote count is to vote tactically," Mr Kent.