David Cameron wants to serve as Prime Minister until at least 2020 to oversee a wave of new reforms including a renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with Europe, he reveals in an exclusive interview in today’s Sunday Telegraph.
Mr Cameron said there would be no turning back on policies unpopular with his party’s grassroots, such as same-sex marriage, the imminent child benefit cut for the better-off and the protection of foreign aid spending.
Mr Cameron also revealed that he is preparing a radical solution to the problem of deportation thwarted by the European Convention on Human Rights, notably the case of Abu Qatada, the Islamist terror suspect.
Under the proposed “deport first, appeal second” arrangement, deportees could only appeal while still in Britain if they faced “a real risk of serious, irreversible harm”.
Speaking to this newspaper’s political columnist Matthew d’Ancona, Mr Cameron for the first time signalled he would seek to serve a full-term if re-elected in 2015.
“Yes – look, I want to fight the next election, win the next election and serve – that is what I want to do,” he said, when asked if he would stay as Prime Minister until 2020.
The Prime Minister rarely discusses his planned departure date, which has prompted speculation that if re-elected in 2015 he would stand down midway through the next Parliament, clearing the way for leadership contenders such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and George Osborne.
However, such strategy is quashed in today’s interview.
Speaking on the eve of the Coalition’s Mid-Term Review, he urged critics within his party to “stop complaining” and recognise the importance of welfare, education and economic reforms being driven through by the Coalition. “This is an enormous reform agenda and that’s enough to keep us all busy,” he said.
Tomorrow’s Mid-Term Review will feature an audit of the Coalition’s achievements so far and a mini-manifesto of measures on pensions, social care and transport, many of which stretch into the next Parliament and beyond.
However, a speech by the Prime Minister later this month setting out his stance on Europe is being more keenly awaited by many Conservatives.
When asked about what he might say in the speech, Mr Cameron said: “What I’d say to Sunday Telegraph readers is 'I get it’. Britain has a role in Europe ... but we’re not happy with the way the relationship works at the moment and so we want change.”
He added that he and his party will be offering “real change” and a “genuine choice” at the next election on the European question. He stressed that Britain has a role to play as a trading nation in Europe, but that there is an “opportunity for us to insist on our own changes” to the European Union.
Mr Cameron also dismissed calls by some in his party to move to the Right to address the threat of the UK Independence Party (Ukip), which has picked up many disaffected Tory supporters and may even win the European elections later this year.
Some recent polls have put Ukip at 15 per cent of the vote, but the party has suffered many false dawns and has never won a parliamentary seat.
“In midterm in government you are taking difficult decision, there’s always going to be a tendency for people to look at protest,” he said.
“I don’t think my job is to try to identify different segments of people who going his way or that. My job is to steer the ship in the right direction.”
However, Mr Cameron acknowledged that it was “very difficult” taking away child benefit for those earning more than £60,000, adding: “Look, I have complete understanding for people who are having their family budgets changed and money taken away and if there is more we can do to make it easier for people, yes of course.”
The Prime Minister also conceded that the Government’s introduction of same-sex marriage could have been better communicated. “One of things we haven’t got across properly is this is what is going to happen in the registry office,” he said.
“This is about what the state does, this is the civil part of marriage. We’re not changing what happens in church or synagogue or mosque.”
Many Christians fear that churches may be forced to hold homosexual ceremonies after a challenge to the European Court of Human Rights. Mr Cameron maintains there are adequate safeguards to stop this happening.
However, Mr Cameron said understood the concerns of Tory supporters who feel he should be going further and faster on boosting the economy, controlling immigration or curbing the welfare state.
“When people temporarily leave you for another party I don’t think, well that’s that,” he added. “I think I understand why you’re frustrated and I want to try and win you back.”
Elsewhere in the interview Mr Cameron said he hoped Andrew Mitchell, the former chief whip who resigned amid the “Plebgate” affair, would return to Government in the future.
Mr Cameron’s long-term vision shows that the Conservatives are already starting to plan for the next election.
This weekend a group of 70 Conservative MPs, including the Cabinet ministers Michael Gove and David Willetts, publish an radical agenda of pro-business policies described by one minister as a “blueprint” for the party’s next general election manifesto.
The group were asked to draw up the policies by George Osborne, the Chancellor who leads the party’s election strategy.
The report suggests axing the retirement age to help more older people find work, lengthening the school day to help working parents and paying lower benefits to those who live in the North and other parts of the country where the cost of living is lower.
Greg Barker, the energy minister who oversaw the report, said that the paper aimed to signal a clear “sense of direction” of what the party would look to offer voters at the next election. “It essential that our party continues to remain with Mr Cameron in the centre ground of politics, that is what these policies intend to do,” he said.