Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. The new cabinet: shuffling to the right (Guardian)

The reshuffle will stir searching questions for the dwindling band of progressives who have until now given this government the benefit of the doubt, says a Guardian editorial.

2. Mr Cameron throws down the gauntlet (Daily Mail)

The biggest question of all is how the new Tory team will fare against entrenched Lib Dem resistance, says a Daily Mail editorial.

3. Obstacles removed. Now get on and govern (Times) (£)

By moving a few big beasts and tweaking the lower ranks, Cameron has created a team more in his own image, writes Daniel Finkelstein.

4. What a reshuffle. It's the return of Brown and Blair (Guardian)

David Cameron can wail, but he is the real ditherer – ever more Tony Blair to George Osborne's Gordon Brown, says Simon Jenkins.

5. Belfast riots are price of poor politics (Independent)

Riots on the streets of Belfast look alarmingly like a return to the bad old days, says an Independent editorial.

6. Memo to ministers – ignore the briefing (Financial Times)

The newcomers need to take a calculated risk and settle on a main priority, writes James Purnell.

7. Hard graft can make Britain great again (Daily Telegraph)

We need to take a long, hard look at the policies that discourage the strivers in our society, says Dominic Raab.

8. Chancellors are supposed to be hated – it's part of their job (Independent)

The general squeeze will not relent, writes Hamish McRae. Finance ministers will be unpopular.

9. Merkel’s good politics and bad economics (Financial Times)

Draghi’s medicine may deliver short-term relief but no long-term cure, writes Josef Joffe.

10. Longer speeches only signal a hard slog ahead (Daily Telegraph)

The first day back at Holyrood suggests there's not much to look forward to this term, writes Alan Cochrane.

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Why Theresa May can't end speculation of an early general election

Both Conservative and Labour MPs regard a contest next year as the solution to their problems. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as a Conservative leadership candidate was to rule out an early general election. After a tumultuous 2015 contest and the EU referendum, her view was that the country required a period of stability (a view shared by voters). Many newly-elected Tory MPs, fearful of a Brexit-inspired Ukip or Liberal Democrat surge, supported her on this condition.

After entering Downing Street, May reaffirmed her stance. “The Prime Minister could not have been clearer,” a senior source told me. “There won’t be an early election.” Maintaining this pledge is an important part of May’s straight-talking image.

But though No.10 has wisely avoided publicly contemplating an election (unlike Gordon Brown), the question refuses to die. The Conservatives have a majority of just 12 - the smallest of any single-party government since 1974 - and, as David Cameron found, legislative defeats almost inevitably follow. May’s vow to lift the ban on new grammar schools looks to many like an unachievable task. Former education secretary Nicky Morgan and former business minister Anna Soubry are among the Tories leading the charge against the measure (which did not feature in the 2015 Conservative manifesto).  

To this problem, an early election appears to be the solution. The Tories retain a substantial opinion poll lead over Labour, the most divided opposition in recent history. An election victory would give May the mandate for new policies that she presently lacks.

“I don’t believe Theresa May wishes to hold an early election which there is evidence that the country doesn’t want and which, given the current state of the Labour Party, might be seen as opportunistic,” Nigel Lawson told today’s Times“If, however, the government were to find that it couldn’t get its legislation through the House of Commons, then a wholly new situation would arise.”

It is not only Conservatives who are keeping the possibility of an early election alive. Many Labour MPs are pleading for one in the belief that it would end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. An early contest would also pre-empt the boundary changes planned in 2018, which are forecast to cost the party 23 seats.

For Corbyn, the possibility of an election is a vital means of disciplining MPs. Allies also hope that the failed revolt against his leadership, which Labour members blame for the party’s unpopularity, would allow him to remain leader even if defeated.

Unlike her predecessors, May faces the obstacle of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (under which the next election will be on 7 May 2020). Yet it is not an insurmountable one. The legislation can be suspended with the backing of two-thirds of MPs, or through a vote of no confidence in the government. Alternatively, the act could simply be repealed or amended. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have demanded an early election, would struggle to resist May if she called their bluff.

To many, it simply looks like an offer too good to refuse. Which is why, however hard May swats this fly, it will keep coming back. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.