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An early election wouldn't solve all of Theresa May's problems

The new Conservative intake would continue resistance to austerity.

What's that coming over the hill? Is it an election, is it an election?

The government's horror of a week and the continuing travails of the Labour Party means that once again, the conversation at Westminster is turning to the question of whether or not Theresa May should go for an early election. Party chair Patrick McLoughlin, chief whip Gavin Williamson and the PM's PPS, George Hollingbery, are reported to have discussed 4 May as a possible date.

On the minus side, you have the risk that an early election would have on the PM's "steady-as-she-goes" brand, the danger to Conservative MPs with a strong Liberal Democrat presence in second place, and what it does to May's line that a Scottish referendum would represent dangerous political gameplaying when Brexit should be the priority.

On the plus side, you have, well, everything else. The government can't really do anything, hemmed in as it is by the undeliverable promises made in 2015 and its small parliamentary majority. In addition to the partial U-Turn on business rates and the complete about-face on national insurance, the whips' office expects that there will be more to come on the new funding formula for schools and on the grammar schools programme as well.

Andrew Gwynne, one half of Labour's new election chief, has said that it would be "difficult" for Labour to vote against a dissolution in the Commons, removing that hurdle.

An early election would also mean that the government would avoid having to re-run any of the elections caught up in the election expenses case in 2019, when the political situation may be very different than it is now.

But there are a couple of reasons why an early election might not be the cure-all that we currently expect. Yes, if the polls are right, the Conservatives will be back in with a bigger majority, and, as far as grammar schools are concerned, a Lords-proof manifesto commitment. That makes some of the domestic agenda easier.

But the real problem with the rates rise, the national insurance increase and the schools formula is that in the last parliament, the government maximised the extent to which it could keep cutting spending without hitting the constituencies of Conservative MPs. That approach was running out of road by 2015 and that problem will be enhanced not diminished by a landslide intake of Tory MPs. (Ditto the school funding formula, which is in trouble because too many Conservative MPs are the losers. That won't change if the majority is 16 or 160.)

And then there's the fact that whenever May goes to the election, her majority will have a pretty large asterisk next to it in the shape of the present-day Labour party. She will not return to Westminster to a horde of new Tory MPs who believe they owe their seats to her or to the parts of her programme they dislike. So even if - and it remains a big "if" - the PM does opt for an early election, her political problems won't all vanish in a new House of Commons.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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