Coulson's return to the fray is bad news for Cameron

It is not helpful for a man about to stand trial to remind everyone just how well he knows "David".

The news that Boris Johnson has his eyes on David Cameron's job might not count as much of a revelation but in this case it's the source that's notable: Andy Coulson. Three months before he stands trial on charges of phone-hacking, Cameron's former director of communications has broken his silence in GQ

Offering his "ten-point masterplan for saving David Cameron and stopping Labour in 2015", Coulson writes that Boris "desperately wants to be prime minister and David has known that fact longer than most", adding that "stabbing David, or anyone else for that matter, in the back would be distinctly off brand – just not very Boris.  He would much prefer to see David fail miserably in the election and ride in on his bike to save party and country."

Elsewhere, he offers a rather banal assessment of Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, wrongly suggesting (in my view) that Miliband's decision to appoint Balls as shadow chancellor is the "gift that will keep on giving" and that the differences between the pair will prove as significant as those between Blair and Brown.

He writes: "The prime minister should pray Ed Balls remains shadow chancellor until the election … Appointing him as George's opposite number was the Miliband gift that will keep on giving … The Tories must look for the divisions and make the most of them a) because they are most certainly real – always a plus – and b) because it's history repeating itself.

"We are in this hole at least in part because of the shamefully dysfunctional Blair/Brown relationship. Labour's two Eds dislike each other and each thinks he is smarter than the other. The Conservatives should imagine in some detail how it would work if they actually won … and share that vision with the British public."

But regardless of the validity or otherwise of Coulson's political analysis, his return to the fray is unambiguously bad news for Cameron. As the PM attempts to counter Ed Miliband's charge that he "stands up for the wrong kind of people", it is not helpful for a man about to stand trial to remind everyone that he's on first name terms with the prime minister ("David"). 

Conversely, others will point to Coulson's piece as evidence of exactly the kind of political nous that Downing Street currently lacks. There is a popular view among Tory MPs that Cameron's woes stem in part from his decision to surround himself with Etonian "chums", rather than working class Thatcherites of Coulson's variety. It is also argued that the former News of the World editor would not have allowed relations with the ring-wing press to deteriorate to the point where the Daily Telegraph, the house magazine of the Conservative Party, all but declares war on Cameron and the Sun, just three years after describing Cameron as "our only hope", refuses to even endorse the Tories at the local elections. 

Coulson's intervention, then, offers openings for Cameron's enemies on both the left and the right. Ahead of the trial, Downing Street must have hoped for a period of dignified silence from Coulson; that wish has not been granted. 

Andy Coulson leaves the High Court in London on May 10, 2012 after giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.