History is a powerful teacher, Theresa May must pay attention. As a result of Andrea Leadsom’s withdrawal from from the Conservative leadership contest on Monday afternoon, May will become the next prime minister having been elected only by Conservative MPs.
This is a slightly greater mandate than Gordon Brown had when he became the leader of the Labour Party (and thus prime minister) automatically due to the absence of any competition. This led to a torrid two and a half years for Mr Brown who turned down the opportunity to hold a general election when he was ahead in the polls. Four years is a long time to govern without a mandate, and it will inevitably lead to a lack of authority at a crucial time, meaning that a general election should be held early.
Concerns about the uncertainty that a general election will create can be alleviated by limiting the timetable, perhaps calling it three weeks before the referendum date. There is no better time for the Conservatives to have a general election, with Labour in disarray, UKIP leaderless and Ruth Davidson leading a Tory revival in Scotland.