The Tories’ vast poll lead is prompting speculation Theresa May will call an early election. Despite the government’s repeated denials, the rumours won’t stop.
But here are three reasons – which I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere – why the government might not go ahead this year:
1. Boundary changes won’t go through until after the September 2018 review. They will make elections easier for the Tories. Calling an election on the old boundaries would both forego the benefit of the changes for a few more years and would mean having to find candidates for seats that won’t exist at the next election. Not impossible but an avoidable pain.
2. Theresa May might hope to be PM for 8-12 years. That’s how long the most successful seem to be able to last.
Let’s say she’s thinking about the lower end of this and expects to stand down around 2024. If that’s the case, a 2017 election would mean fighting another by 2022. The first election might shock Labour enough it gets rid of Corbyn, elects a new leader and becomes a plausible opposition by 2022. That second election could be quite tough.
On the other hand – if May thinks Labour is unlikely to improve much by 2020 – holding off another three years means she might only have to fight one election. She can leave by mid-2024, giving her successor time to get ready for the following year’s election.
This means, from the perspective of May’s entire Prime Ministership, the question isn’t just “will Labour improve by 2020?”, but is also “will Labour be better in 2020 than it would be in 2022 after having lost a 2017 election?”.
Of course if she wants to go beyond eight years she’ll have to fight at least two elections regardless. But then if she wanted to go past 11 years, an early election now would mean fighting three over her time in office.
3. The Lib Dems are mostly talked about as a threat to Labour, but they’re more likely to stop May calling an early election.
It’s certainly true that their pro-EU message appeals to some 2015 Labour voters and potential converts. But the Tories have 24 seats with a majority of less than 10,000 over the Lib Dems, compared with Labour’s 6 seats. Given the Lib Dems’ improvement since 2015, many of those seats are likely to fall.
In an early election May could be confident that her gains from Labour would outweigh these losses to the Lib Dems. But that won’t be much compensation to the 24 Tory MPs who might lose their seats and are, presumably, arguing against an early election.
I talked about these issues, along with Scotland and Northern Ireland, on this week’s Polling Matters podcast with Keiran and Rob: