Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The decline of interest in politics is worse news for Labour (Guardian)

Behind the fun fisticuffs between Labour and the unions is a grim trend that threatens all politics, writes Geoffrey Wheatcroft.

2. Australia will reveal what politicians we want (Times)

Voters Down Under will show our MPs whether people want directionless crowd-pleasers or leaders with conviction, writes Tim Montgomerie.

3. The west's influence in Egypt is as limited as its will for democracy there (Guardian)

If the country is to avoid a return to entrenched dictatorship, secular progressives and Islamists must find common cause, writes Jonathan Steele. 

4. Last US frontier shows need for government (Financial Times)

Thanks to local and state spending, funding of public goods is in better shape than many realise, writes Martin Dickson.

5. This government attack on unions will gag charities and campaign groups, too (Guardian)

Even local campaigns against fracking or a new road may be criminalised under draconian proposals to limit political spending, says Frances O'Grady.

6. This might not be a recovery, but a good old-fashioned boom (Daily Telegraph)

It’s no time for caution – we’re learning to have fun again, so let’s enjoy it while we can, says George Trefgarne.

7. It’s time for a new Labour guru – Coco Chanel (Daily Telegraph)

The only route to power for Ed Miliband is to adopt a very simple maxim: less is more, says Dan Hodges.

8. If the PM doesn't hit the brakes, his legacy will be one of the biggest white elephants in history (Daily Mail)

More and more evidence is stacking up to suggest that HS2, if it goes ahead, will be one of the greatest follies of any British government, writes Stephen Glover. 

9. When did university become a factory? (Independent)

What has happened to the places of free thought and experimentation, where minds expanded, asks Yasmin Alibhai Brown.

10. Push too hard and we lose our faith in charity (Times)

People are becoming alienated by overpaid chiefs, overzealous interference and overemphasis on political lobbying, writes Libby Purves.

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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.