Much of Wednesday’s election talk in the UK media is focusing on David Cameron’s (seemingly) spontaneous announcement that he won’t serve a third term in office and will step down as Britain’s Prime Minister before 2020.
His declaration came in an interview with the BBC six weeks before an election in which he faces a fight to win even a second term. A careless blunder or calculated political posturing? That is the question the UK press is debating.
What he said
Conservative party leader Cameron told the BBC’s deputy political editor James Landale “There definitely comes a time where a fresh pair of eyes and fresh leadership would be good, and the Conservative Party has got some great people coming up – the Theresa Mays, and the George Osbornes, and the Boris Johnsons.
“You know, there’s plenty of talent there. I’m surrounded by very good people.”
“I’ve said I’ll stand for a full second term, but I think after that it will be time for new leadership.
“Terms are like Shredded Wheat – two are wonderful but three might just be too many.”
How the opposition responded
The main opposition party, Labour, claims that Cameron is “taking the British public for granted.” Douglas Alexander, who is co-ordinating his party’s election campaign, said: “It is typically arrogant of David Cameron to presume a third Tory term in 2020 before the British public have been given the chance to have their say in this election.”
The Liberal Democrats, the junior party in the current ruling coalition, said through a spokesman that the announcement was “incredibly presumptuous of David Cameron.”
A spokesman for anti-EU party UKIP, always keen to bring Brussels into any conversation, predicted that “Mr Cameron’s announcement will create the long-awaited civil war in the Conservative Party over Europe.”
What the ‘papers say
The BBC’s James Landale, the journalist who coaxed the announcement out of Cameron (or presented him with the chance to make it, depending on how premeditated you think it was) believes that “Mr Cameron has potentially opened a Pandora’s Box” and has made a “dangerous gamble” so close to an election.
The Financial Times agrees that “Mr Cameron has made a risky concession, all the more striking for being unforced.” At the same time it admits “It gives the impression of a man who is not politically obsessed and recognises there is a realistic limit to how long any individual can stay in Number 10.”
Writing for the FT, George Parker and Elizabeth Rigby do not believe the statement was calculated but rather “not part of a carefully orchestrated plan.” One of their leading Conservative party sources even went so far as to call it a “cock-up.”
Newspapers and websites to the right of the political spectrum have been, predicatably, more supportive of Cameron’s decision to announce his departure years ahead of the event. Chris Roycroft-Davis, writing in the Daily Express hails it as “the right thing to do.” The top line of the article should give you some idea as to the rest: “[Cameron] is a man to whom the truth comes naturally – unlike his political opponents in the Labour party and the Left-wing media.”
The Daily Mail, politically situated somewhere between the Conservative Party and UKIP, admits that Cameron “risked undermining his prime ministerial authority” by ruling out a third term. One of the quotations hidden between the Mail’s many screenshots of the interview and it’s notorious ‘Wall of Shame’ on the right-hand side of the web page has one of Cameron’s policy advisors praising the PM’s “honesty” and contrasting it to his predecessor: “You will remember Tony Blair deliberately not answering the question. He said he would do a full term and that didn’t prove to be true,” says Nadhim Zahawi.
Centre-right newspapers were also keen to add some complimentary adjectives to their surprised reaction to Cameron’s revelation. “Brave”, “honest” but “bizarre”, said Alex Massie in The Spectator. The Daily Telegraph proposes “candid” but “unusual”.
Smelling blood, the more left-wing media have seized on the chance to attack. The Independent does so with a listicle – five ways Cameron “messed up by ruling out a third term”. After those five reasons (arrogance; a repeat of Blair’s mistake; unleashing a party rat race for the leadership; snub to the rest of his party; overshadowing the Conservative election campaign) the Telegraph’s Matt Dathan then gives his readers the Machiavellian reason behind the announcement (Cameron wants to cement his leadership for a full second term).
The Daily Mirror calls Cameron “the first Prime Minister to quit at a general election” and “a caretaker hemorrhaging authority”. His announcement it describes as “a huge own goal” and “an irreversible destruction of the Prime Minister’s credibility.”
Harsher still is The Socialist Worker, which publishes a headline fit for a protest banner: “Cameron says he’ll step down after second term – go now, and take your rich mates with you.”