Morning Call: pick of the comment

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

1. David Cameron's Tories are a one-man band that's playing out of tune (Daily Telegraph)

Simon Heffer doubts whether Cameron's shadow cabinet will stand up to the scrutiny of an election campaign.

2. The election of a lifetime: maybe not. But the stakes are too high to tune out (Guardian)

Jonathan Freedland argues that the election will be a far more ideological contest than most commentators suggest. Labour and the Tories have utterly different conceptions of the role of government.

3. Labour has no cure for its binge hangover (Times)

Alice Thomson says that the government's latest action plan will again fail to reverse the damage done by 24-hour drinking.

4. Naval nostalgia and edgy kit are no basis for sane defence (Guardian)

Simon Jenkins argues that the head of the army, Sir David Richards, is right to dismiss the navy and air force as strategically obsolete.

5. Objections I never heard in 2003 (Independent)

The Labour MP Denis MacShane says that many of those who now excoriate Tony Blair over Iraq nevertheless supported the invasion at the time.

6. Kraft's takeover leaves a bitter taste in the mouth (Daily Telegraph)

Tracy Corrigan predicts that investors in both companies -- and the British economy -- will lose out in the US food giant's takeover of Cadbury.

7. How smoking shines a light on pack loyalty (Times)

Daniel Finkelstein says that group identity is just as important as economic incentive to the way we behave.

8. Beijing has seen the future and knows it must be green (Guardian)

Isabel Hilton argues that while China is investing in clean technology, debate on climate change in the US remains stuck in the 1950s.

9. Muslims know a fatwa can support peace rather than terrorism (Independent)

Shahid Mursaleen says that the latest edict against terrorism proves that suicide bombing is unequivocally un-Islamic.

10. A simpler protest than Billy Bragg's wheeze: switch banks (Guardian)

John Harris suggests that opening a Co-operative account is a far better way of taking action against the banks than withholding your taxes.

 

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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.