2 Oct 2013

Cameron: everything’s on the up but job’s not done

A chunk of David Cameron’s speech was added in response to Ed Miliband’s leader’s speech last week.

The Tories wanted to monster Labour’s “Blue Peter economics” and proclaim themselves the party of aspiration and the party of business – two mantles Tory strategists felt that Labour had abandoned as of last week.

Mr Cameron said Ed Balls’ flat-lining gesture, which the shadow chancellor makes to taunt the PM at question time, was out of date.

He said he had a new gesture for Mr Balls and when he’d paused for laughter, pointed upwards to suggest economic growth.

“Trade up,” “jobs up,” “construction up”, he said, repeatedly jabbing his (index) finger in the air.

But the other part of his message was trying to dampen down any sense (perhaps fed by people jabbing their fingers in the air talking about how everything’s on the “up”) that it is “job done.”

Read more: Tory conference: eye-popping Osborne

His message was that the country needs the Tories to finish the job.

And though he didn’t mention Ukip in the speech, that was his message to Ukip voters too.

He wants to scare them with the thought of Mr Miliband in No 10 because he thinks that’s the way to get them back.

He mocked Mr Miliband’s energy bill freeze as something that would turn the nation’s lights off.

He defended his own market intervention, the help to buy scheme – which gives kittens to many bankers and quite a few Tory ministers.

Read more: Tory conference: workfare and pacts

He tried to snatch the US’s nickname as “the land of opportunity” and as he ended his speech Bill Clinton’s 1992 tune burst out, “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.”

If you’re under 25, his message was you can stop thinking about claiming benefits that have conditionality – it sounds like job seekers’ allowance is going to be whipped away from under 25s (replaced with training and job schemes) along with housing benefit if the Tories get a majority.

The Tories were taken a bit by surprise by the press interest in that. It was in earlier drafts of the speech I’m told and not a last minute addition. It was meant to be an indication of the sort of stuff you get if you elect a majority Tory government not held back by the Lib Dems in coalition. Anyway, the end result is that we are all looking at a policy that is not yet cooked but too interesting to ignore.

The government says this all meshes in with Sir Jeremy Heywood’s review of Neets and training. But the Heywood review is very much at the “carrot” end of the policy market – increasing provision of training for those who seem to slip through the system and end up marginalised for life. The tone of David Cameron’s announcement was much more at the “stick” end of the policy market.

This was nothing like last year’s speech, a painstakingly crafted synthesis of the Tory case. At the heart of that speech was the phrase “global race” which Tory strategists think many voters don’t quite understand.

Read more: Tory Conference: red lines, Europe and the ECHR

And Lynton Crosby is said to be amongst those who think that it failed to make enough connections with ordinary lives.

So this speech tried to be more direct and probably lost some intellectual elegance along the way.

One last thought… remember Green Dave?

The spring conference in 2006 was decked out like Kew Temperate House with tropical insect and bird noises floating out of the speakers.

The man’s first big facility trip for the media was to the Arctic circle.

Today there was only one mention of rising sea levels.

In the middle of a gag about the “iron law of British politics…” he says “the oceans can rise and empires can fall”.  How times change.

Read more: In Conversation with Gary Gibbon

Mr Cameron’s mentioned privately to people at this conference that, after the general election, the whole idea of “conferences” probably needs to be re-thought.

He’s talked of a “weekend only” conference of two days.

The main pressure to keep an event attended by fewer and fewer activists and more and more lobbyists was that it made money for the party.

I’m told even that argument is receding faster than George Osborne’s hairline and the net takings this year were not so great.

The self-proclaimed party of business may have a hard-headed business decision ahead.

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