6 Oct 2010

David Cameron defends child benefit cut

As David Cameron prepares to tell the Conservative conference that spending measures will not be easy, an expert tells Channel 4 News why the prime minister’s speech must relate to ordinary people.

David Cameron defends child benefit cut

Prime Minister David Cameron will today use his speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham to warn of the impact of spending cuts which are necessary to slash Britain’s budget deficit.

Yesterday the prime minister apologised for not being upfront with voters about the change to universal child benefit in the Conservative party manifesto for the general election.

A row over measures to cut child benefits to parents earning above a certain threshold threatened to overshadow David Cameron’s speech to members. Parents stand to lose £2,500 a year in a three-child household if either adult earns £44,000 or more.

Earlier senior cabinet minister William Hague insisted that the abolition of child benefits for higher-rate taxpayers was “tough but fair”.

Speaking this afternoon David Cameron will seek to win over the small businessmen and skilled workers who may be hit by the change, by declaring he wants to support “the doers and grafters, the inventors and entrepreneurs” and warning jobless households that they will no longer be allowed to live off other people’s taxes if they are capable of working.

'Cameron must look like a statesman'
"The main thing David Cameron has to think about during his speech is how to make it accessible to ordinary people," professional speech writer Simon Lancaster told Channel 4 News.

"Margaret Thatcher did that by talking about the economy as a household income.

"The second thing he has to think about is that a lot of his previous conference speeches have been kind of fluffy. The New York mayor Mario Cuomo said, "We campaign in poetry, but we govern in prose". David Cameron needs to leave some of the poetry at home. He needs to make sure he doesn't look like he is trying to win elections, and look like a statesman.

"You don't want to see him bouncing around the stage like Johnny Ball, you want to see him holding the lectern - more like Barak Obama.

"There is one issue in town - the deficit. The challenge is reconciling that with everything he's said before. The framing of his speech is very important for that.

"The public understands that small is bad and big is good. Every leader of a conference since 1948 has promised more money for the NHS and more money for schools. He needs to break away from that, and make out that small is good.

"That is what the Big Society is all about."

Mr Cameron yesterday hinted that the government may use a planned tax break for married couples to try to soften the blow of the loss of child benefit – which hits couples where one parent stays at home harder than those where both work.

Aides said ministers had not “closed the door” on the idea of allowing a proposed transferable tax allowance for married people to apply to the higher-rate taxpayers who will lose their child benefit, as well as the basic-rate earners for whom it was originally intended.

Channel 4 News will live blogging David Cameron’s speech to party members at 2:30pm. Come and join the online debate.