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Monday, March 23, 2015 

Advantage Labour.

Baffling.  Alex Massie has it dead right.  Of all the mistakes Tony Blair made, what on earth has possessed David Cameron to repeat the one that guaranteed he most certainly would not serve a full third term?  At the time, Blair's declaration made something approaching sense: polling behind his party and as we now know having seriously considered resigning in 2004 at the peak of the why the fuck haven't we found any weapons of mass destruction imbroglio, making clear he wasn't going be around forever looked to be a way of placating his enemies and being straight with the public.  As it turned out, all it did was make Blair a lame duck, Gordon Brown and his (then) supporters went on manoeuvres, and the messiah was off to get ludicrously rich via his dictator frotting services not even half way through his "full" third term.

Cameron though is more popular than his party, something that itself can only be explained as being the work of alchemy.  Unlike Blair, he hasn't so much as managed to win a single election, let alone two.  Unlike Blair, he does not have an obvious successor.  Indeed, while Labour was half-bullied and half-sleepwalked into anointing Brown as leader, a Tory leadership contest promises to be hard fought and potentially bloody, not least when all three of Theresa May, George Osborne and Boris Johnson are proficient in the dark arts. There would almost certainly be other candidates too, including from further to the right, with all the baggage they carry.  Lastly, for all the distrust and hostility towards Cameron on said right of the party, he's managed to hold it together reasonably well in the face of the UKIP insurgency, and also kept it in the coalition for the whole 5 years, something that most certainly wasn't assured.  He is without doubt the party's greatest asset, yet he's effectively just admitted both that he doesn't expect to win this time either, and that his party will get rid of him as a result.

There is absolutely no other explanation for going public with his plans.  As the rest of the media are saying and has been discussed before, very few expected Cameron to serve a full second term anyway.  Presuming the promised referendum on EU membership survived any new coalition agreement, a successful renegotiation and yes from the voters would have provided a perfect opportunity to stand down.  The deficit all but gone, Britain still in Europe, say what you like but it would be something approaching a legacy, and subsequently be embroidered further by the sycophantic newspapers we so love.  Coming out and saying I won't be around come 2020, as well as specifically naming May, Osborne and Johnson as his potential successors is to set off that very contest before we've so much as entered the "short" campaign.

You could understand it somewhat if Cameron was facing a more onerous campaign, such as one featuring the same three debates as were held last time.  Except he managed to humiliate the broadcasters into all but accepting the precise format he wanted, so desperate was ITV to hold any sort of debate again.  Another possibility is he doesn't have any confidence in the campaign as it stands or in the manifesto, and so thought by making it about himself, as he undoubtedly has, it would distract from the other shortcomings.  Except, again, the Tory strategy up to now has been to repeat the words long, term and plan while ripping on Ed Miliband, which if nothing else hasn't seen the party go backwards in the polls.  It could be he's looked at the way the majority of politicians are tired of increasingly quickly, and felt that by making clear he's not destined to "go on and on" he'll avoid the kind of monstering Blair (deservedly) and Brown (less so) continue to receive.

It's a decision so bewildering, in the way it's clearly been planned, made in the softest of interviews with the BBC (Blair also set out his decision to the BBC, incidentally), and so presumably was signed off with Lynton Crosby as Matthew d'Anconservative writes, that makes it all the more difficult to get your head round.  At a stroke it opens up numerous attack lines for Labour (and the rest), whether they be vote Cameron get one of these jokers, or that Cameron is taking the voters for morons, both of which have already started to ring out.  Arguably, vote Cameron get Boris could be attractive to some, but that makes so many assumptions as to be moot.  It also blows a hole straight through one of the other Tory lines we've heard so often, of competence versus chaos.  Rather than provide certainty Cameron has just ensured the next 5 years will be a mess of plotting, skulduggery and infighting, instead of the strong leadership they're so desperate to project.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming.  The way the Conservatives demanded Labour rule out a coalition with the SNP smacked of a leadership that doesn't believe it can win a majority, a line that Miliband and the rest foolishly didn't respond with.  At the weekend the Graun carried a detailed report on how a "praetorian guard" would try to save Cameron for the nation in the event of the party failing to win a majority, a further sign of just how seriously the prospect of failing to be able to govern in any capacity is being considered.  This still doesn't explain why Cameron would make such an admission now though, instead of keeping it in reserve for later in the campaign if a breakthrough in the polls still fails to materialise.

To return to Alex Massie, it really is as though no party wants to win this election.  Surely, definitively, this has to give Labour the kind of fillip they could only have dreamt of.  Cameron makes clear his weakness, his party's coming self-destruction, win or lose.  And yet still you can't shake the feeling they'll screw even this up.

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