Cameron turns the election campaign into a leadership campaign. Why?

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March 25, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith

What was he thinking? I mean, really, what was he thinking? The whole concept of the Conservatives’ election campaign was that they have a long term economic plan and were the best people to deliver it. So why would David Cameron ever think it was a good idea to tell the BBC’s James Landale he was not going to serve a third term. When the debate is supposed to be about the economy, or education, or health, Cameron basically indicated that the next Tory Government would be one long leadership campaign. Helpfully, he even named his favoured successors.

The response to this has said more about those who are responding than about Cameron. I personally believe that when he said that he intended to serve a full second term, to make sure that he finished the job he had started, and not serve a third term in 2020, he was genuinely making the point that, unlike Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher, he won’t go on for ever. Both Blair and Thatcher contributed to tarnishing their legacy by carrying on for one term too far. Some people have argued anyway that we should have a constitutional rule that a Prime Minister should not serve more than two terms anyway (like in the USA). As Landale himself said, he asked the question, and Cameron answered, and given we always complain that politicians are giving us soundbites instead of answering questions honestly, we shouldn’t complain when they do answer it honestly. The context of the interview was Cameron, relaxed, talking to Landale whilst chopping vegetables for lunch with his family, and in those situations, sometimes Cameron forgets he is a politician.

But the right-leaning media has complained. They feel that this destabilises the party at a time when iron discipline is required. The party and the media should not be talking about who would be the next leader now. The public, many of whom admit, even if they don’t support the Conservatives, that Cameron has good leadership qualities and gives them a sense of security, may see less reason to vote Conservatives if they remember the chaos of the last two years under Tony Blair, in which no one would talk about anything except when he was leaving to make way for Gordon Brown (particularly Gordon Brown).

The left-leaning media, led by the Labour Party, have accused Cameron of being presumptuous, in assuming that he will be in a position to have a second term let alone a third term. One could say that is true. Yet, again I would point out that he was talking to Landale about what he would do in a second term, that he was looking forward to pursuing what he views as his more ‘positive’ reforms on welfare and education rather than just endlessly talking about austerity and the economy. Landale asked about the third term, and Cameron gave him an honest answer.

Then there are the names he gave. Theresa May, George Osborne and Boris Johnson. They are, I guess, the obvious names. They are the ones everyone is talking about. But he must realise that naming them like that will mean that they have his implied endorsement. There are some candidates like Sajid Javed and even Michael Gove who will not be impressed they weren’t named. Cameron should remember that he was first elected as an MP in 2001 and became leader in 2005, so no leader would have named him before the 2001 election, and as far as we know there could be someone not even an MP yet who could come through like he did.

So, I go back to my original question. What was he thinking?

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