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PM defends 'no third term' remark

David Cameron has insisted he is "taking absolutely nothing for granted" about the general election result and predicted that voters would see his decision to rule out a third term as Prime Minister as "a very reasonable, sensible thing to say".

Asked if he regretted stating his intent not to continue beyond 2020 - which critics have warned undermines his authority and distracts from the Tory campaign for re-election on May 7 - he said people should "just focus on the issue" of who they wanted running the country.

And he dismissed calls for him to set out exactly how the Tory leadership succession would work as "endless games of political processes" that the public would not be interested in.

The PM was grilled over his shock statement, in a BBC interview broadcast last night, after addressing an Age UK summit in central London.

He said: "I am taking absolutely nothing for granted.

"My entire focus is on the next 44 days and the general election, which will decide which team runs this country for the next five years.

"I want that to be me and my team but the alternative is it is Ed Miliband and his team, and that is the focus that I have in the days ahead.

"What I did in my kitchen is I gave a very straight answer to a very straight question and I think that people will understand that - that saying you want to serve a full second term for a full five years is a very reasonable, sensible thing to say.

"So I think we should just focus on the issues at the election about who do you want to run the country for the next five years."

Mr Cameron shocked Westminster last night when he revealed that he would serve a full second term if he remained PM after the general election but would not "go for a third term" at the election expected in 2020.

He fuelled speculation about a leadership battle to come by naming three of his senior colleagues - Home Secretary Theresa May, Chancellor George Osborne and London Mayor Boris Johnson - as possible successors as Tory leader.

Aides later briefed that no decisions had been made on whether Mr Cameron would fight the 2020 election or hand over to a successor in advance, saying: "We will cross that bridge when we come to it."

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls blasted the Prime Minister as "spectacularly self-indulgent, presumptuous and arrogant" for giving the impression of taking victory for granted when the country goes to the polls in May.

Former Downing Street director of communications Alastair Campbell said the seemingly off-the-cuff remark was "a potential disaster" for the Tories, who could find their election campaign dominated by speculation over a future leader.

But Mr Cameron hit back: "I want to serve the full second term, the full five years as your prime minister.

"But it's not my choice, it is all of your choices, the British public's choice. In 44 days' time they get to decide whether I am prime minister for the next five years or whether Ed Miliband is prime minister for the next five years.

"I am going to fight with everything I have got to win that election because we have a long-term economic plan that is working, we are putting the country back to work, we have turned the economy around, we have provided, I believe, the dignity and security that elderly people deserve in their old age.

"That is the fight that I am going to have.

"I think giving a straight answer to a straight question about the future is actually a sensible thing to do and I think most people understand that, rather than want to play an endless games of political processes five years hence."

Former Conservative Cabinet minister Michael Portillo described Mr Cameron's announcement as "bizarre".

Mr Portillo told BBC Radio 5 Live: "I think it is bizarre and it has occupied the last day's news. It may even occupy another day's news - I don't know.

"And with only about 44 days to go until the election, if any other member of the Government had taken up the news with an irrelevance like this, I think the Prime Minister would have been very cross.

"When you play chess you have to consider the next two moves, and I don't think he did. There is no point setting off on this wild goose chase in the middle of an election campaign."

Mr Osborne told the BBC: "I think it's really refreshing that we have a Prime Minister who gives a direct answer to a direct question. He has said he's going to serve that full five years.

"The question now facing the British public, as we approach this election, is do we want five years of strong leadership with David Cameron delivering zero inflation and record jobs, or do we want the chaos and incompetence of Ed Miliband?"

During his address to older voters, Mr Cameron raised eyebrows by talking of his political "epitaph".

"I've got to be honest with you," he said. "I don't want my political epitaph to be that I balanced the books and cleared up the mess I inherited.

"I am here today because I want a different kind of Britain - a country with the right values, a country where reward follows effort, where you get out when you put in."

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