PETER OBORNE: Don't be a coward like Brown, Mrs May. You MUST call an election
Within days of becoming prime minister in 2010, David Cameron introduced a damaging constitutional change which overturned centuries of British history.
His Fixed-Term Parliaments Act declared that general elections should take place once every five years, thus removing the traditional freedom enjoyed by British prime ministers to go to the polls at a time of their choosing.
As with almost all bad ideas, the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act was introduced with the very best of motives.
Mr Cameron knew there would be tensions in the Coalition Government. He therefore determined to send out the strongest possible signal that the administration would endure.
Mrs May owes her sudden prominence to to nothing more than an internal Tory convulsion - she was selected by a small group of MPs, not the British people
In the short term, to be fair, his clever wheeze worked well, and brought stability to the Coalition.
In the long-term, however, Mr Cameron’s five-year rule is proving hugely destructive.
Circumstances have changed beyond recognition. Britain is no longer governed by a fragile coalition brought together to address a catastrophic economic emergency. We have a new Tory prime minister with a tiny Commons majority and no direct mandate from the British people.
Unlike every recent prime minister — with the very telling exception of Gordon Brown — Mrs May has not come to power at a general election. She owes her sudden prominence to nothing more than an internal Tory convulsion.
She was a selected by a small group of MPs, and not the British people.
In the normal course of events, Mrs May’s logical move would be to call a general election. But she cannot do so because David Cameron’s Fixed-Term Parliaments Act prevents her from doing so.
Judging from his decision a fortnight ago to place Labour on an election footing, Jeremy Corbyn agrees with me
To make matters even worse, Mrs May — as she explained in her powerful Tory conference speech on Wednesday — is determined to govern in a completely different way to her predecessor.
This is partly a matter of style, but it also involves policy.
There will be a new economic policy in the wake of Chancellor Philip Hammond’s decision to abandon any attempt to balance the books by 2020. Mrs May’s new education policy is completely hateful to Mr Cameron since she is set on bringing back grammar schools, a type of education to which David Cameron and his supporters were resolutely opposed.
The rudiments of a new health policy can be detected, starting with the move to train thousands more British doctors. Welfare is on the move.
Only home affairs — Mrs May’s fiefdom before her move to Number 10 — looks set to remain unchanged.
Mrs May and Mr Cameron are animated by completely different political philosophies. Mr Cameron was a liberal internationalist; Mrs May is a patriotic conservative
Furthermore, Mrs May and Mr Cameron are animated by completely different political philosophies. Mr Cameron was a liberal internationalist; Mrs May is a patriotic conservative who sees her historic task as reasserting the primacy of the nation state in a complex, globalising world.
In order to further that vision she has sacked David Cameron’s most loyal ministers and advisers, bringing in her own team.
This means Britain has a new government. Indeed I believe there is a far greater difference between Theresa May and David Cameron than there ever was between Mr Cameron and Tony Blair.
New governments normally enjoy the mandate of the electorate, and I have no doubt that but for David Cameron’s five-year Act, Mrs May would have sought the mandate of the British people through a general election. Morally, this would be the right course of action, on the grounds that British voters have never had the opportunity to give their opinion on Mrs May’s new policies.
Just as crucial, it would be the wise and pragmatic thing to do. Mrs May was well-received in Birmingham this week, but one does not need to be Nostradamus to foresee that she faces huge problems in the future.
She has inherited a working majority of just 16 in the House of Commons, not nearly enough to survive the arduous programme of legislation envisaged over the next three and half years.
Back in 1992, John Major obtained a majority of 21. He was repeatedly defeated and thwarted on the floor of the Commons
It’s worth remembering that back in 1992, John Major obtained a majority of 21. He was repeatedly defeated and thwarted on the floor of the Commons.
Furthermore, Mrs May confronts a problem that Major never faced. According to convention, the House of Lords can only mount serious challenges to legislation which has not been foreshadowed in general election manifestos.
None of Mrs May’s flagship policies — such as grammar schools — have been sanctioned by the electorate, meaning the Lords can cause as much trouble as it likes.
Once again, one does not need to be a soothsayer to predict trouble.
To command a majority in Parliament it is practically certain that at some stage Mrs May will be forced into a series of degrading expedients in order to assert her authority: that was the sad fate of John Major in the Nineties.
David Cameron's Fixed-Term Parliament Act was introduced with the very best of motives, but it was a damaging constitutional change
By far the most likely would be a parliamentary pact between Mrs May’s Conservatives and the hardline Democratic Unionist Party.
The DUP has eight MPs, and could certainly sustain Mrs May’s parliamentary majority. I couldn’t help noticing they were present in Birmingham in force this week, and there was indeed talk of a deal.
But the price would be very damaging since it would severely weaken faith in the impartiality of the British government in Northern Ireland, and so undermine the still-fragile peace process.
For all these reasons I strongly believe Mrs May will be obliged to call a general election well before the five years are up.
Judging from his decision a fortnight ago to place Labour on an election footing, Jeremy Corbyn agrees with me.
I doubt an election is imminent, but next spring would be the natural moment for Mrs May to seek an endorsement from the British people.
She will be mindful of the heavy price paid by Gordon Brown when, in cowardly fashion, he failed to call a general election in the summer of 2007, because he feared he’d lose to Mr Cameron’s fresh-faced Tories.
Three years on, he was defeated. Mrs May, not a stupid woman, will have learned from that mistake.
Of course David Cameron’s Fixed-Term Parliaments Act is an obstacle. But it is easily solved. After all, Mrs May has declared war on the Cameron legacy since becoming prime minister. She has sacked his ministers and reversed his policies.
Now, she urgently needs to repeal Cameron and Clegg’s daft fixed-terms Act.
This will give her the option of seeking a popular mandate for the massive programme of economic and social revolution she announced at the Conservative conference this week.
Cameron's lack of grace
I have never made any secret of my opinion that Lord Feldman was a terrible Tory Party chairman.
Handpicked by David Cameron, he was contemptuous of party members, whom he supposedly described as ‘swivel-eyed loons’. Not a man of the people, he much preferred very wealthy party donors.
But today for the first time, I take pleasure in saluting Lord Feldman. This week he took the trouble to travel to Birmingham for the party conference in order to thank all those who worked with him for the past ten years.
Today for the first time, I take pleasure in saluting Lord Feldman - on this occasion he behaved impeccably
Whatever his previous faults, on this occasion he behaved impeccably.
If only David Cameron and George Osborne could have shown comparable grace by showing their faces in Birmingham to acknowledge the fact that they only won power thanks to the unstinting support given to them by thousands of selfless, loyal, generous-hearted party activists.
Boris slow on taxes
News of Theresa May’s much-vaunted mission to crack down on tax-dodgers appears not to have reached Boris Johnson’s Foreign Office.
Last week, Johnson despatched minister Baroness Anelay to the Cayman Islands, arguably the most notorious tax haven on Earth, on a glad-handing mission, it seems.
‘The Cayman Islands’ track record of co-operation and transparency speaks for itself,’ simpered the Baroness — a former history teacher and magistrate who was also once heavily involved in the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Her words will have been sweet music in the Caymans, but may go down much less well in Downing Street.
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