Cameron: much style, little substance

Political Editor Graham Dines listens to David Cameron's key note containing little of substance but delivered in the confident, flamboyant style of a Prime Minister-in-waiting.

Graham Dines

Political Editor Graham Dines listens to David Cameron's key note containing little of substance but delivered in the confident, flamboyant style of a Prime Minister-in-waiting

IN the dark, post 1997 era for the Conservatives, if a global economic crisis had exploded, Fleet Street's leading journalists would have packed up their computers, returned to London, and left the Tories speaking to themselves.

But yesterday, all of Britain's leading journalists stayed true to the conference, a sign that no matter what their newspapers' individual policies are, the Conservative Party can no longer be regarded as irrelevant.

They were rewarded with a speech from David Cameron which had to be largely rewritten because of the economic turmoil, but which still managed to be delivered in a style of which Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg can only dream.

There was little new in what Cameron said. It lacked substance. And it was at least 10 minutes too long.

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But that didn't matter to the party's representatives who packed into the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's concert hall, a last minute change of venue because the original hall couldn't cope with the numbers who wanted to listen to their leader.

For a year, the Government has been beset by cock-up and incompetence. Add to this the rising fuel, food and energy prices and voters have fled into the arms of the Tories, even though they had had no real idea of what polices they had.

When London kicked out a Labour mayor and elected Boris Johnson with a huge mandate of a million-plus votes and when Labour supporters defected directly to the Tories in the Crewe & Nantwich by-election, they did so more in anger at Gordon Brown and Labour than in confidence of what David Cameron and the Tories stood for.

Mr Cameron's speech again underscored his message that politicians must put aside their differences and work with the government “in the short-term” to ensure financial stability.

But it was still the opposition's constitutional duty to hold the Government to account, to explain where ministers were going wrong, and how it would do things different to rebuild the economy in the long-term.

The warm-up acts to the speech were a bunch of Tory candidates representing Wales and Scotland, women and ethnic minorities.

And by far the best line in the speech was not contained in the printed copies distributed to the media as he spoke.

“I hold to some simple principles. That strong defence, the rule of law and sound money are the foundations of good government.

“I am deeply patriotic about this country and believe we have both an incredible history and an amazing future. I believe in the union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and I will never do anything to put it at risk.

“I don't want to be Prime Minister of England, I want to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.”

Mr Cameron destroyed Gordon Brown's argument that this is no time to hand over to a novice, which was a swipe not only at Cameron but aimed like a howitzer at Labour's young pretender David Miliband.

“To do difficult things for the long-term or even to get us through the financial crisis in the short-term is what matters more than experience and judgment, and what you really believe needs to happen to make things right,” said Cameron to loud applause.

“I believe that to rebuild our economy. It's not more of the same we need, but change. To repair our broken society, it's not more of the same we need, but change.

“Experience is the excuse of the incumbent over the ages. Experience is what they always say when they try to stop change.

“In 1979, James Callaghan had been Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Chancellor before becoming Prime Minister. He had plenty of experience. But thank God we swapped him for Margaret Thatcher.

“Just think about it. If we listened to this Government about experience, we'd never change a government ever. We'd have Gordon Brown as Prime Minister - for ever.”

A Cameron administration's first priority would be to rein in Government borrowing and spending, not to cut taxes, he said to an audience largely composed of tax cutters. Tory victory in the upcoming election would not mean an "overnight transformation'' for Britain.

The Conservatives would inherit "a huge deficit and an economy in a mess' and would need to do "difficult and unpopular things for the long term good of the country'', he said, adding: "I know that. I'm ready for that.''

“The risk is not in making a change,'' he said. “The risk is sticking with what you've got and expecting a different result.

“Experience means you are implicated in the old system that's failed. You can't admit that change is needed, because that would mean admitting you've got it wrong.”

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