David Cameron at the Conservative conference in Manchester in 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why the drain of 2010 Tory MPs spells trouble for Cameron

The decision of nine Conservative MPs elected in 2010 to stand down suggests many fear defeat - and makes it more likely. 

The announcement by Dudley South MP Chris Kelly that he will stand down at the general election makes him the ninth Conservative MP elected in 2010 to choose not to recontest his seat. 

This strikingly high number spells trouble for the Tories in two ways. First, it suggests that a significant number are not confident of retaining their seats. All of the nine (Louise Mensch, who resigned hers in 2012, Jessica Lee, Aidan Burley, Mike Weatherley, Chris Kelly, Laurs Sandys, Lorraine Fullbrook, Dan Byles, Jonathan Evans) represent marginals targeted by Labour, with six in the top 42 of the party's hit list. Detailed polling by Lord Ashcroft and others has shown Labour performing disproportionately well in its target seats.

Second, the decision of so many from the 2010 intake to stand down will make it harder for the Tories to defend their marginals. First-time MPs traditionally benefit from a disproportionate incumbency bonus as they build their constituency profile and as they face less well-known opposition candidates, rather than sitting MPs (who enjoyed their own local profile). 

Combined with the defection of Douglas Carswell to Ukip, which both reflects and reinforces the Farageiste threat, the drain of 2010ers is further evidence of why many are finding it ever harder to see how the Tories win the next election. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.