Tom Richmond: May is right to resist calls for early general election

William Hague is advocating an early election.
William Hague is advocating an early election.
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SHOULD Theresa May exploit her extended political honeymoon and call a snap general election to fully capitalise on Labour’s disarray under Jeremy Corbyn?

William Hague, the former foreign secretary, thinks so. He said this week that there’s a “very strong” case for a spring poll because “trouble is coming” over Brexit.

He’s not alone – some Cabinet ministers are said to concur and said Lord Hague had “performed a service” in raising the very possibility.

There’s certainly a case for Mrs May securing her own mandate – she did not require the endorsement of Tory activists when her leadership rivals fell by the wayside and it would give legitimacy to her Brexit blueprint as Article 50 is triggered.

Political strategists also argue that leaders should do what their opponents least want and a snap election would certainly spell disaster for Labour, despite the budget tax hike being levied against the self-employed.

However, I believe that the considered advice of Lord Hague, the former Richmond MP, is misguided on at least three counts.

First, it would require the Fixed Term Parliament Act to be annulled. Put in place when the Tories and Lib Dems were in coalition to prevent an impromptu election being called, the Conservatives would have to repeal a law they introduced – how will they explain that to the country at large? Or will they repeatedly pass votes of no confidence in Mrs May? It’s unrealistic to expect Opposition parties to provide self-aggrandising Conservatives with the two-thirds majority required otherwise.

Second, Mrs May might have tried to call an election by now if it wasn’t for the invidious in-tray bequeathed to her by David Cameron and confidantes like Lord Hague, notably the consequences of Britain backing Brexit. To do so now, at the moment Article 50 is enacted, would be a distraction and only add to the uncertainty. Would people be voting for a PM or a rerun of the EU referendum?

Third, Mrs May – in contrast to the stance pursued by her opponents – promised at the very outset of her leadership campaign that she did not intend to call an early election. She could not have been clearer. To go back on her word would be a prima facie breach of faith.

Unlike the more calculating politicians – and those on Labour’s benches who regret Gordon Brown not going to the country when he replaced Tony Blair in 2007 – I don’t sense any appetite on the public’s part for an election, in spite of Mrs May not having a personal mandate.

They are simply reassured to have a premier who is getting on with the job. A small Commons majority does, in fact, increase the likelihood of a Brexit settlement in the interests of the whole country – and not just the Tory right-wing.

In the meantime, Lord Hague might be minded to spend his time galvanising support for Mrs May in the unelected, and still unreformed, House of Lords where the Government does not enjoy a majority – a state of play that will still exist even if the PM calls, and wins, a general election.

IF BEING Chancellor was like a reality TV popularity contest, there would not be the increase in the self-employed’s National Insurance contributions.

Chancellors, however, are paid to take difficult decisions and Philip Hammond is reversing the Tory party’s pledges at the last election because the country is so mired in debt.

This isn’t a choice. It is borne out of economic necessity and a realisation that the ranks of the self-employed – a number that will only grow in time – don’t pay a fair share for the public services that they enjoy and take for granted.

At least Mr Hammond did not shirk this challenge. What is a dereliction of duty, however, is the criticism from those Tory MPs who say the policy should be reversed, and without explaining how they would fill the resulting £2bn black hole in the public finances. If the Government backtracks on this, not only will it be an act of political weakness, but it will be even harder to fund the NHS, for example, in the future.

CONGESTION and pollution levels in Leeds have not been helped by the city council’s obsession with erecting as many sets of traffic lights as possible because its leaders presently don’t want motorists to travel with a modicum of speed.

Given scientific evidence that stationary traffic is exacerbating harmful emissions with significant consequences for public health, how about a system of sensors so people don’t have to wait unnecessarily at less busy times?

It’s a humble suggestion made after sitting at a set of lights for two minutes the other Sunday morning when no other vehicle was in the vicinity.

ANOTHER tip for loyal customers having their benevolence abused by insurance companies. Don’t accept the quoted fee on the renewal notice. Phone them up and ask for an up-to-date price. A cheaper offer will materialise if the agent thinks they’re going to lose your custom. It’s just a shame that people have to do this.

IT’S more than likely that farmer Peter Easterby’s five Champion Hurdle wins will be either surpassed by Nicky Henderson at the Cheltenham Festival – or equalled by Ireland’s Willie Mullins.

Given the Yorkshireman was self-made, and had none of the wealthy patrons enjoyed by today’s leading trainers, it makes the arable farmer’s achievement all the more remarkable 50 years after he saddled Saucy Kit to victory over the Queen Mum’s Makaldar in 1967.

He’s a true great of Yorkshire sport and should be celebrated as such.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk