Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. George Osborne should stick to his job and leave politicking to others (Daily Telegraph)

The Chancellor has enough to do trying to save the economy from impending disaster, says Peter Oborne.

2. The lesson from Eastleigh is simple: the Conservative leadership has lost control of the party (Independent)

A new assertiveness at local level is changing the dynamics of Westminster, writes Steve Richards.

3. Now we know why it was right to invade Iraq (Times)

Ten years after the war began, the country is more secure and democratic, argues David Aaronovitch. The alternative was Syria on steroids.

4. Should one man take the blame for Mid Staffs? (Daily Telegraph)

Calls for the resignation of Sir David Nicholson, the NHS boss, raise profound questions about how we are governed, writes Sue Cameron.

5. Creationist free schools are an abuse - ancient ignorance has no place in education (Independent)

Young minds are primed by nature to believe most of what adults tell them to believe, writes A. C. Grayling. They should be treated with respect, not twisted into shapes that conform with dogma.

6. Europe takes its bite from the City (Financial Times)

Business may switch to New York or Hong Kong to evade EU rules, writes John Gapper.

7. I wish more of us shared the PM's pride in Empire (Daily Mail)

We have turned from being an optimistic, dynamic, outward-looking country to a narrow, introspective and unconfident one, says Stephen Glover.

8. Heroin chic's gone, but the curse of the catwalk remains (Guardian)

Size zero may have made way for 'space farmers' at London Fashion Week, yet the exploitation of vulnerable girls continues, writes Zoe Williams.

9. UK energy policy restricts growth (Financial Times)

Britain needs to get capital flowing into power, says Richard Lambert.

10. Europe: the Right Italy (Guardian)

At one end of the continent Italy is playing with fire, at the other, Britain is doing the same, says a Guardian editorial. 

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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.