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Why Dave has ruled out a third term

david cameron not happyHow short are political memories? Being someone with stints in Leninist organisations behind me, one lesson I talk from those times was how the party styled itself as the collective memory of the class. Hence why the repetitious lead offs on the Russian Revolution and rinse and repeat articles on the old beards. However, it turns out those comrades were right.

In the Labour Party, as a rule, there is little sense of shared histories. Policies that were tried and failed before make comebacks from time to time. There is little systematic education and therefore the lessons learned by previous generations of activists are haphazardly handed down informally to newer members. The Conservatives, on the other hand, are a qualitatively different story. More so than Labour. they appear to live from moment to moment, chasing polls and obsessing over headlines in papers whose circulation and influence shrinks by the day. History is not something to be learned about, for the drawing of necessary lessons, but rather serves as a convenient stick to batter the opposition.

That brings us to yesterday’s announcement that Dave is stepping down at the end of any second term he may be elected to serve. Leaving aside the fact that’s not likely to happen, it is something of a hostage to fortune. Westminster villagers have long known his plan was always to say au revoir after successfully getting Britain through the EU referendum two years hence, so nothing really new there. Yet, it comes back to politics goldfish-like memory. Only 10 years have passed since Blair entered his final election having made a similar pledge. How did that work out for him? Two years of dogged questions about his resignation date, press speculation about little else, and a derailing of whatever political agenda Blair had as it was swallowed by gossip and nonsense.

What then is Dave thinking? Does he want endless questioning at every PMQs and press conference to be about the date of his departure? Does he think his awful backbenchers are going to behave themselves like good little boys (and they are overwhelmingly boys) while he serves out his term? Of course not. Officially he’s made the nice noises of letting someone new take the reins, name-checking Osborne, May, and Johnson. But it’s politics we’re talking about here. There are good reasons. And there are real reasons.

One might be tempted to see this as an attempt to drive terrible press out of public consciousness, and thereby improve Tory electoral hopes. Though, as Alastair Campbell points out, there’s fat chance of that happening for other reasons.

No, my smart money is going on the UKIP factor. We all know the Tories are having a tough time as the purple people bleaters menace the party from the right. While there is a little bit of polling evidence that the challenger parties are getting a squeeze, come May it’s ludicrous to assume the Green and UKIP vote respectively will collapse down to levels seen at the last general election. There is a section of the formerly core Tory vote that are playing footsie with UKIP. They don’t like Dave and his “lefty” ways, but also know that casting their lot in with Nigel Farage might imperil Conservative election chances. They’re torn and in a tight contest, which way they break can make a difference in a score or more marginal seats. This then is a sop to this brigade. Dave is declaring to these people that if you vote for the Tories, you won’t have to put up with the PM’s gay-marrying, husky-hugging, air-brushing nonsense for much longer. Vote Tory but don’t get Dave. Except you will get Dave for the full five years.

As gambits go, it has Crosby’s fingerprints all over it. But will it work? It’s unlikely. Dave’s one talent is that he looks the prime ministerial part. He’s the weak man of British politics, but also the teflon man as well. The awfulness of his party, his regressive policy agenda does not stick to his person. So be declaring that the Conservative Party’s main general election asset has only a limited shelf life smacks of politics that aren’t particularly smart.

One Comment

  1. dave K says:

    I like your post Phil, but think you missed the internal tory party dynamic. Even if after the election if the conservatives managed to be the largest party but no majority he was likely to face calls to step down from those who want Johnson, Osborne or May. This way he calculates it gives him a chance to go at a time of his own choosing even if he cant win the majority.

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