Chris Radburn – WPA Pool/Getty Images
Or no, no, no, as a former Tory leader once put it.
May saying in Japan, as she has just done, that she will fight the next election is just the sort of thing leaders feel they have to say when they think it will bolster their authority. It is designed to close down speculation.
Perhaps she should have said that she would see how things go in a two or three years. That would have been better.
There are, broadly, three ways the next election happens:
1) Early unspecified meltdown next year. A crisis over Brexit, or the economy, and a Tory rebellion, brings the government crashing down. All Tory MPs have an interest in avoiding losing a vote of no confidence, and the DUP too, so it is a long shot but easy to imagine. If the government falls and Corbyn is in contention, there is no way the Conservative party woudl put forward Theresa May for another go. My guess? They would instigate a “men and women in blue suits” emergency operation and have a new leader before Huw Edwards could say “and here is the news.”
2) Early election because Brexit is going so brilliantly. Do. Not. Hold. Your. Breath. But even if you can imagine a 2019 or 2020 early poll on the basis that the talks went well and May recovers, who would trust the polls enough to go early? Vanishingly small chance, and the Tories anyway at that point would need a leader who offered a new face and fresh start. Not Theresa May.
3) This parliament runs its full term until 2022, five years away. Will a grateful nation and Tory selectorate say with one voice “please stay for another five years!” Er…
In none of these scenarios – none – is the Tory party (its senior ministers, MPs and leading activists) going to risk going through the “strong and stable” experience again. They were simply traumatised by the last election, hiding behind the collective sofa every time the Prime Minister (a shy and decent person obviously hating every minute of the campaign) came on screen to say “strong and stable in the national interest” over and over again. It was a Wizard of Oz gets the curtain pulled back moment. It was just horrible for them, and anyone with human feelings, to watch. The Tory tribe will not be risking that again.
So, will Theresa May fight the next election as Tory leader? No.