Morning call: the pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from the morning papers.

1. David Cameron: ‘I have problems with the Thatcher legacy’ (Sunday Times) (£)

The coalition is floundering, yet David Cameron still exudes supreme self-confidence at the dispatch box. As he campaigns for this week’s local elections, Eleanor Mills pins him down

2. The best place to change the EU is the EU (Independent on Sunday)

Former European Commissioner for Trade Lord Mandelson says David Cameron is wrong to pick a fight with Europe.

3. You're only in it for yourself, Nigel: Top Tory donor's blistering open letter to UKIP leader (Mail on Sunday)

An open letter from Michael Ashcroft.

4. A crime mystery. It's going down, but no one really knows why (Observer)

Nearly all the so-called experts predicted that austerity would lead to more crime. The opposite is happening, says Andrew Rawnsley.

5. Human rights are worth fighting for (Sunday Mirror)

If there’s one thing that exposes the hypocrisy of the Tories as the so-called party of law and order, it’s human rights, says John Prescott.

6. Good policies can transcend Right and Left (Sunday Telegraph)

The welfare reform programme is a true instance of compassionate conservatism, says Janet Daley.

7. A contest between my two boys? That sounds like tremendous fun! It would be Bo-Jo v Jo-Jo (Mail on Sunday)

Stanley Johnson got the news late because he spilled wine on his phone. Now a proud father celebrates his son Jo's new job in No10.

8. It's fine to boost the arts, but we should first redefine them (Observer)

Given their importance to the British economy, we must think anew about our cultural industries, says Will Hutton.

9. Forget sarin — Assad crossed the red line with his first murder (Sunday Times) (£)

Are some methods of slaughtering our fellow humans more acceptable than others? Dominic Lawson says yes.

10. Boris and Jo Johnson: Two very different brothers with an eye on the big prize (Sunday Telegraph)

If Jo Johnson could borrow some of Boris’s magnetism there would be no limits to what he could achieve, says Bruce Anderson.

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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.