Cameron: lame duck, or just putting on the limp?

25 March 2015 -


You could be forgiven for thinking that the PM's admission that he wouldn't serve a third term was a ploy to keep the pre-election spotlight on his party…

Jon Bennett

A straight answer to a straight question? A fatal dropping of his guard in the presence of a journalist? Or some cunning political calculation? Whatever the real motives behind David Cameron’s cosy kitchen declaration that he doesn’t intend to stand for a third term, it has fuelled a frenzy of media speculation.

Mirror associate editor Kevin Maguire has called it a “momentous miscalculation”, saying “The Tory leader’s incredible blunder fired the starting gun for a Conservative bun fight to replace him.”


The Independent has listed “Five ways David Cameron messed up by ruling out a third term and THE reason why he said it” – which states that, aside from looking “arrogant and presumptuous”, Cameron has repeated Blair’s mistake over Gordon Brown, which “sapped all authority from Blair’s premiership and handed the initiative to Brown”. However, amid its barbs, the Indy asserts that “THE” reason behind the statement was a calculated bid to extend, rather than reduce, Cameron’s tenure in Downing Street. The paper believes this would “dispel the growing expectation within the party that he would move aside after leading a successful renegotiation of Britain's membership of the EU and winning the subsequent referendum.”

Labour has, of course, taken the opportunity to make this all look as scandalous as possible. Ed Balls has said, “In his spectacularly self-indulgent, presumptuous and arrogant announcement David Cameron is ruling out a third term before he has even won a second.”

I can’t presume to know the reason behind the prime minister’s apparently off the cuff remarks, but at the risk of running counter to some very experienced prevailing wisdom, is this really so bad for the PM?

Parallels are being drawn with Tony Blair’s announcement that he wouldn’t seek a third term. But, while that certainly undermined the Labour PM’s authority, forces within the party had been seeking to depose Blair for some time.

One positive for David Cameron is that the announcement (if you can call it that) is focusing all attention on the PM, his immediate team and his wider leadership styles. Cameron has been able to show confidence in his senior Ministers, some of whom may feel it is worth waiting a few years yet before launching any challenge on his leadership. And while the media talk about Tory leadership five years hence they create the impression that Cameron is a fixture for that period of time – reinforcing his pre-existing advantage as a standing Prime Minister. Simultaneously, the opposition is being deprived of airtime just when Labour’s strategy is to get Ed Miliband in front of the voters at every opportunity. To draw parallels with Blair and Brown’s 10-year leadership spat, it was hardly ideal for policymaking – but it did mean the leadership narrative stayed focused on Labour.

So, is Cameron a lame duck before the election has even taken place?

If you’ve seen the classic 90s thriller The Usual Suspects, you’ll have witnessed *spoiler alert!* the limping figure of Kevin Spacey gradually stride out victorious as the wheels within wheels of the story he’s been spinning are revealed for the illusions they were. Perhaps Cameron’s struggling mallard is swimming perfectly steadily below the water line.

Jon Bennett is managing director of corporate communications consultancy Linstock Communications.

For further thoughts on succession planning, pick up a copy of this CMI Checklist guide, Organisational Essentials.

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