Cameron’s judo speech

John Rentoul

dc 300x169 Camerons judo speechDavid Cameron’s speech had its ration of waffle and meaningless guff. It was an annual conference address, after all.

All that stuff about how great Britain is (“This is the country that invented the computer, defeated the Nazis, started the web, saw off the slave trade, unravelled DNA and fought off every invader for a thousand years”), and how competitive the global economy is (always a strange line, that, because the implication is, “Work harder, people, work harder!” Tony Blair used to do it all the time.)

But it also had an argument. It paid Ed Miliband the compliment of taking his raid on One Nation rhetoric seriously. As Mary Ann Sieghart commented, that Cameron devoted so much of the speech to rebutting Miliband reflected how much he had allowed his party to be defined by the opposition. He used his opponent’s momentum against him, however, to turn the debate round and to emerge ahead.

On the economy, schools and welfare he had a solid case, well put together. It just goes to show that there is an advantage to writing this stuff down (it also means that you don’t forget bits, as Ed Miliband apparently did).

I didn’t agree with the economic bit. “We’re here because they spent too much and borrowed too much. How on earth can the answer be more spending and more borrowing?” Well, Nobel prize-winning economists have explained at some length how spending cuts slow the economy down, but you can see why he kept it at the level of matchsticks maths. Presumably it goes down well with the focus groups. And the punchline was not bad: ”Labour: the party of one notion: more borrowing.”

Welfare reform is, of course, a bit more complicated than this:

We say help people become independent from welfare. Our opponents call it: ‘Cruel Tories, leaving people to fend for themselves.’ No: there is only one real route out of poverty and that is work.

Gordon Brown used to say the same. It is the detailed policy that matters. And, politically, the cap on housing benefit. It is extraordinary that Labour has got on the wrong side of that question.

But the real disaster for the Labour Party is that it is now on the wrong side of its own policy of improving schools. That whole section of Cameron’s speech could and should have been delivered by Ed Miliband last week:

I don’t want great schools to just be the preserve of those that can pay the fees, or buy the nice house in the right catchment area. I want those schools to be open to every child – in every neighbourhood… That’s my plan – millions of children sent to independent schools; independent schools in the state sector.

It was surprising that a politician who went to Eton could use his own schooling to present a more credible egalitarian policy than a politician who went, as he told us more than once, to a comprehensive.

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  • greggf

    *What is the point of Voices, incidentally?

    No point Junius: no edit, no memory, no structuring, not post-friendly, no disqus,no interest and hence no comment!

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