CommentPlus: pick of the papers

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

1. This election shouldn't be close. That it is shows up Cameron (Guardian)

That the Tories are still unsure of winning a majority is an indictment of David Cameron and his party, says Jonathan Freedland. Cameron's failure fundamentally to reform the Conservative Party has turned what should have been a stroll into a slog.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

2. Weak government may be our strongest option (Times)

Contrary to conventional wisdom, a hung parliament would be the best possible outcome, suggests Anatole Kaletsky. The toughest economic decisions would have the backing of the majority of voters.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

3. I'll put a wager on a Tory victory, despite the known unknowns (Independent)

The overhyped TV debates are unlikely to prove the making of Gordon Brown, writes John Rentoul. Thanks to the Tories' audacious tax-cut pledge, Cameron will enter Downing Street with a small majority.

4. Britain prepares to take the measure of its leaders (Financial Times)

But elsewhere, in the Financial Times, Simon Schama predicts that the televised debates will make a big impression on voters at a time of deep and unrelenting trouble for Britain.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

5. The only thing you won't hear in the next 30 days is the truth (Daily Telegraph)

All that is certain after the election is that we will be governed by a social-democratic government of some sort, writes Simon Heffer. The cosy consensus between the main parties leaves millions in effect disfranchised.

6. A political manoeuvre that allows president to take moral high ground (Independent)

Barack Obama's new Nuclear Posture Review is a political statement, not a military one, argues Rupert Cornwell.

7. Do you trust David Cameron? That's the question for voters (Times)

The result of this election will be determined ultimately by whether the public believes in Cameron, says Daniel Finkelstein.

8. The worst classroom bullies? Politicians (Daily Telegraph)

A combination of government meddling and poor parenting has left schoolchildren angrier than ever, and their teachers unable to cope, writes Francis Gilbert.

9. The UK must look beyond the crisis (Financial Times)

Labour and the Tories must look beyond the Budget deficit and display a coherent vision for a better life, says an editorial in the Financial Times.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

10. Liberal Democrats could be tainted by Tory association (Guardian)

The Lib Dems may long for a hung parliament, but association with David Cameron could prove the death of the party, says Polly Toynbee.

Sign up now to CommentPlus for the pick of the day's opinion, comment and analysis in your inbox at 8am, every weekday.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

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.