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19 December 2016

Theresa May is running out of reasons not to call an early election

The Prime Minister's agenda is under threat from all sides. 

By Stephen Bush

Is it all coming undone for Theresa May already?

Over at the i, Richard Vaughan finds that the PM’s flagship schools policy to open new grammar schools is unlikely to get off the ground before 2020. Officials believe that the plan will struggle to clear the House of Lords and that the road to implementation is trickier still. “Grammar schools plan in trouble” is that paper’s splash.

The PM is facing pressure from her right flank over the wave of Christmas strikes.  Airports are the next to be hit, with British Airways cabin crew, airport staff and Virgin Atlantic pilots all in disputes over pay. If those disputes aren’t resolved without industrial action, it will add further fuel to calls to restrict the right to strike on “essential” (read: “used by voters”) services.

May is unlikely to back legislation to limit strikes, not least because, once again, getting it past her own small majority in the Commons, let alone the House of Lords, where she has no majority at all, is a tricky task.

Another brewing fight is over development spending. Dfid is once again under fire. The Mail is criticising the department for authorising £5m of funding for an Ethiopian girl band to develop a media platform (“Britain gives £5m to African Girl Band” is their splash) while the Times leads with the fact that, to meet the target of 0.7%, the department is putting money into World Bank trust funds that are then left unspent for years. (“UK ‘dumps’ billions in bid to meet aid target” is the Times splash.)

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In this case, Dfid are damned if they do and damned if they don’t: attacked for spending money and attacked for investing it.

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Morale at Dfid is low. They still distrust their new boss, Priti Patel, who they believe still wants to effectively scrap the department, and there is a belief – one that is denied by Patel’s aides – that stories like today are emanating from inside the department in a bid to prepare the ground for a radical reduction in the horizons of what Dfid does.

But again, any changes to the 0.7 per cent target will come up against entrenched opposition in both Houses of Parliament, and May  has, for the moment, ruled out U-Turning on the pledge.

But that so much of the government’s agenda is running up against the inability to pass new policy through the Lords and the wafer-thin majority in the Commons means that the speculation about a snap election will continue to be part of the background hum of politics in 2017.  

This originally appeared in Morning Call, along with everything you need to know from today’s papers. Sign up for free here.