Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking after three weeks of reports of lawmakers questioning his leadership, said he ignores such “rubbish” and is focusing on securing the U.K.’s international economic competitiveness.
Cameron saw the U.K.’s top credit rating downgraded last month and his party, already behind in the polls for a year, was pushed into third place in a special election, stoking criticism of his leadership. Following Cabinet revolts over spending plans and alcohol pricing, he hit back last night, saying his Tory party and voters need to concentrate on the longer-term goal of restoring economic growth.
“It’s so vital that you look to the horizon and not tomorrow’s headlines, because there is a sort of daily battle of this story and that event,” Cameron said in a Conservative Party broadcast on national television. “It’s all rubbish. What matters is: Are you taking the right long-term decisions for the good of the country?”
Cameron’s intervention was aired hours after the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Ed Miliband, told the premier his grip on power is failing. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne delivers his fourth annual budget next week, with the economy on the brink of a triple-dip recession.
“A week out from the budget, they’ve got an economic policy that’s failing, a prime minister that makes it up as he goes along, a government that is falling apart and all the time it’s the country that is paying the price,” Miliband told lawmakers at Cameron’s weekly question-and-answer session in Parliament in London yesterday.
Cameron’s lieutenants moved to discipline Tory lawmakers and ministers two days ago, telling them to stop undermining the premier and focus on the opposition.
At a morning meeting of Conservative Cabinet members, Education Secretary Michael Gove attacked those in the room who were positioning themselves to succeed Cameron. He didn’t name names, according to one person present who declined to be identified.
Home Secretary Theresa May gave a speech on March 9 that went outside her brief by setting out her views of the agenda on which the party should fight the 2015 election.
May’s next speech, in two days, will focus on her own policy areas, a person familiar with the matter said. She’ll seek to remind her party and voters that she’s been successful in reducing crime and bringing down immigration, both key Tory policy platforms, said the person, who declined to be named because they aren’t authorized to speak to the press.
“I’m not going to intrude into internal discussions in another political party,” Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister in Cameron’s coalition, said on LBC radio today when asked what he thought of the leadership speculation.
“David Cameron is going to remain prime minister for the rest of this parliament,” Clegg said, referring to the period of time until elections in 2015. “I personally think the British public won’t be very interested or tolerant of political parties that start talking to themselves rather than fixing the problems of the country.”
Cameron faced his rank and file at a private meeting for lawmakers in Parliament on the evening of March 12. According to two of those present, his newly appointed election strategist, Lynton Crosby, told them they must decide whether they were commentators or participants in the political fight. They were urged to think about the impression created by their comments on the Twitter Inc. social network.
Crosby, an Australian who helped John Howard win power before coming to Britain to work on the Conservatives’ losing 2005 general election campaign, was behind London Mayor Boris Johnson’s successful campaigns in 2008 and 2012. He told lawmakers that his strategy for the 2015 general election would involve simple messages attacking the Labour Party.
According to one lawmaker, Crosby said the Conservatives should highlight tensions between Miliband and the party’s treasury spokesman, Ed Balls.
“Some people want to abandon the course we are on; they are offering easy answers,” Cameron said in his broadcast last night, referring to Labour. “There is still more to do, there are still some massive areas we have to tackle.”
Another rift within the Conservatives was exposed by BBC and Daily Telegraph newspaper reports yesterday that Cameron has been forced to drop a plan to set a minimum retail price for alcohol after criticism from other ministers. The premier declined to confirm in the Commons that he’ll go ahead with the proposals.
“For me, the heart of politics is not political theory, it is people and how they want to live their lives,” Cameron said in his broadcast.