An Open Letter to David Cameron
Dear Prime Minister,
Party leaders who are unbeaten at the polls should usually fight coming general elections unless one of three conditions applies.
First, they have become an electoral liability.
Second, they have been defeated over a major policy matter.
Third, they have gone mad.
None of these conditions apply to you. You are not an electoral minus: indeed, you are a plus, since polling has found you to be more popular than your party. You have not been defeated over a major policy matter (and on balance, are likely to win a Yes vote in the coming EU referendum if, as expected, you campaign for one). And, unlike at least two of your recent predecessors, you have evidently not gone mad in office. Given the demands of the post in this day and age, this is nothing less than astonishing.
At first glance, there is thus no good reason why you should not seek to contest the 2020 election as Party leader. However, there is a whacking great fly in the ointment. You’ve promised not to.
Here is the quote in full – made during the recent General Election campaign. The question was: “Would you go for a third term?” And your answer was:
“No. I think I’m standing for a full second time. I’m not saying all prime ministers necessarily definitely go mad or even go mad at the same rate. But I feel I’ve got more to bring to this job, the job is half done, the economy’s turned round, the deficit is half down. I want to finish the job.
There definitely comes a time where a fresh pair of eyes and fresh leadership would be good. The Conservative party has got some great people coming up – the Theresa Mays and the George Osbornes and the Boris Johnsons. There is plenty of talent there. I am surrounded by very good people.”
Now, I’m not saying that statesmen must never eat their words – let alone change their minds. The practice of politics would become impossible if they sometimes did not.
But that “No” wasn’t some fudged form of words, addressed to some minor detail of policy. Rather, it was an unambiguous pledge, addressed an important political issue (your own position during a future poll), and was made as part and parcel of your general election campaign.
Furthermore, your words were backed up by briefing from Downing Street, media appearances by Ministers (such as Michael Gove) – and by you yourself only a few days later, when you said that ruling out a third term would prevent “endless political process five years hence”.
Arguably, this promise not to go “on and on and on” helped to persuade voters further of your good sense and normality – and thus played a crucial part in winning the narrow Commons majority that the Party now enjoys. U-turning on your words could thus raise questions about its legitimacy.
A final consideration. By saying what you said and by then winning in May, you have prepared the Party for an orderly transition of leadership. (You named three of the possible contenders yourself.) Tearing up your pledge would threaten to throw this into chaos.
That the Daily Telegraph’‘s political editor today floats you doing so adds further to the impression that you have recently been finding ways of testing the waters. You may well not have been – though the prospect of going head-to-head with Jeremy Corbyn in 2020 must have you smacking your lips.
But just in case the temptation is there, ConservativeHome says: don’t do it, Dave. You shouldn’t have made the promise in the first place, and it isn’t at all clear why you did. But now that you have made it, you must keep it. Best to close down speculation by repeating it today.
P.S: I am willing to bet that our Party member readers take a different view – and urge you to stay on. So we will open a special poll of them today to find out.