PM bites the bullet: Why is May calling a snap election now?

Tamara Cohen, Political Correspondent

It's on. After nine months of denials and deflections, the Prime Minister has bitten the bullet and called a General Election on 8 June.

In dramatic scenes outside Number 10, Theresa May said "with reluctance" she would go to the country to get a firm mandate for delivering Brexit.

It's not easy - there's the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act to get around, but with her poll lead widening by the day Mrs May has calculated that the rewards are too good to miss.

Speculation has been running riot for months, as the Conservatives have widened their poll lead from the low teens to a staggering 21 points in two surveys over the past few days.

Mrs May's party is most trusted on every subject apart from the NHS, and even Labour supporters think she would make a better Prime Minister than Jeremy Corbyn.

Since entering Number 10 in the extraordinary circumstances of last summer, Mrs May has been dogged by the election question and the spectre of Gordon Brown bottling his chance and regretting it.

In fact, as the case for going to the country has only got more compelling, the denials from her team have only been more determined.

On 20 March, her official spokesman said to a question on whether it would happen before 2020: "It isn't going to happen."

Why now?

Most obviously that with the Tories on course to win by a substantial margin, it would dramatically improve her room for manoeuvre in the Commons.

One influential analyst has predicted she would win a 100-seat majority.

After an embarrassing Budget U-turn on National Insurance forced by about 20 Tories refusing to support it, Mrs May currently faces a struggle to get her priorities, such as grammar schools, past her party.

She is constrained by a 2015 manifesto which she didn't write and which includes commitments to staying in the single market and running a budget surplus.

With the forthcoming Queen's Speech set to be dominated by Brexit bills, it would give Mrs May a boost not only domestically but in Europe.

In fact, former Tory leader William Hague has publicly advised her to call for an election in order to show her negotiating partners that she has a resounding mandate. She took his advice.

In terms of the logistics, getting an early election under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act passed in 2011 involves two-thirds of all MPs - 434 out of 650 - voting for it.

Or a vote of no confidence, although this would be considered a nuclear option.

Mr Corbyn has made clear he would advise his MPs to do so and that he is prepared for a snap election to happen as soon as this year.

Mrs May must be sure of the numbers, as a number of Tories have told me they would not relish the prospect because of fears of a Lib Dem resurgence in their seats and the prospect of getting rid of Mr Corbyn - their greatest electoral asset.

As one Conservative put it to me only last week: "Theresa can't get rid of Jeremy, I love that guy!"

The constant drumbeat for months is that there may not be a better time.

The PM is still in the honeymoon period, enjoying high personal approval ratings, Article 50 has been triggered and there will be a lull for a few months while the French and German elections take place.

Yes there are problems: if the SNP retain all of their existing MPs having called for an independence referendum, it could give Nicola Sturgeon a renewed mandate for independence.

The election campaign will put Mrs May's Brexit strategy to the test and could reopen divisions of the EU referendum campaign.

But her trump card is to accuse the other parties of opposing the will of the people.

The Prime Minister with a reputation for being a steady hand has just thrown caution to the wind.

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