David Cameron has announced he will not seek a third term as prime minister, even if he does win the election in May. In a move that may cause instability shortly before the campaign formally begins next week, he nominated Boris Johnson, Theresa May or George Osborne as potential successors.
Mr Cameron was the outsider when he ran for the leadership of the Conservatives shortly after the 2005 election. Bookies and pundits had expected David Davis to win the leadership contest, but Cameron’s friendship with the caretaker leader Michael Howard proved decisive. Howard extended the campaign to include Conservative Party Conference in the knowledge Cameron was a far better public speaker than Davis.
However, on issues like the environment, gay marriage and Europe, Cameron has become unpopular with many in the Conservative grassroots. He is blamed for the haemorrhaging of support to UKIP, and has cost the party a vast number of key activists.
He told The Times political leaders should never see themselves as “indispensable”. He said: “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. The third term is not something I’m contemplating.”
He added: “Countries, like big organisations, benefit from strong and consistent leadership but there comes a time when you want a fresh agenda. 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.”
Behind closed doors Conservatives at Westminster had already begun discussing possible replacements for Cameron. Theresa May is seen as a frontrunner because she has made a success of being Home Secretary, a post that has claimed the political lives of many Conservatives. And she has done it at a time when the job was particularly hard due to Islamic Fundamentalism.
But May is also very much on the left of the party, and would continue things like positive discrimination towards women. The right-wing candidate is likely to the Culture Secretary Sajid Javid. The son of a bus driver from Rochdale, Javid began his interest in politics when he campaigned against the Thatcher government’s decision to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.
By 25 he was the youngest Vice President of Chase Manhattan Bank in New York, and he entered parliament in 2010 having given up a £3m a year job to do so.