Early election - will she or won't she?

Theresa May Image copyright Getty Images

Theresa May has a reputation around Whitehall for following the evidence.

Ministers who might not automatically see themselves as her bosom political buddies report that she gives "a fair hearing" and "you can really influence her decisions" if arguments and information are rationally debated and presented.

That formal style irritates some and raises accusations that it is impossible to deal with the Number 10 "bottleneck".

But it has, in some quarters, won her grudging respect.

On one particular issue, however, even some of her supporters believe she is not following the natural logic.

That's her decision, so far, not to take people like Lord Hague's now very public advice and call an early election.

The case for is obvious.

Labour is dazed and confused. She has years of torturous negotiations over the EU ahead of her. The prime minister has only a wafer-thin majority and has an appetite for some controversial reforms at home like grammar schools in England and tackling the social care system.

There are years of controversial cuts to come. And creeping inflation and sluggish wages mean many people may be feeling the pinch and are increasingly politically grumpy by the time of the scheduled next election.

The consensus in Westminster is that if she were to go to the country, Mrs May would end up with a thumping majority. What better reserves of support to have at her back as she contemplates a hard road ahead.

Some senior Westminster players believe the case is a simple slam-dunk.

Image caption The Fixed-term Parliaments Act means the government has essentially to collapse itself on purpose to call a vote

But Number 10 (until now at least) rebuts it clearly and the fabled consensus can often be wrong.

So what are the arguments against such an overtly persuasive case?

First the technicalities. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act means the government has essentially to collapse itself on purpose to call a vote.

It would be a temporary embarrassment, but one sources close to Mrs May don't discount.

She has publicly ruled out holding a snap election, and trite as it may sound, this government hopes to be one that sticks to what it said it was going to do. (Easier said than done, let's see what their record is in a couple of years.)

The first question in any interview were she to announce an election would be: "Of course, you promised not to hold an election, did you mislead the public?"

There is also a risk, of course, that what looks like an easy victory in theory, could become much, much harder in practice.

'Political temptation'

Politics is so unpredictable right now it is hard to be sure of anything.

And for the prime minister, on the verge of starting the process of Brexit, maintaining stability is key.

Other Tories, looking at Labour in doldrums wonder aloud: "Why would we go for four years, when we could almost be guaranteed to have nine?"

But sources at the top of government say Mrs May decided firmly not to hold an early election.

Just as she is known to be open to evidence while making up her mind, once she has made a decision she is hard to budge.

It seems holding off from calling an election is one of them, although in time, it's a political temptation even the self-described vicar's daughter may find too hard to resist.

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