Peter Hoskin

Cameron is Mr Reasonable on Today

Cameron is Mr Reasonable on Today
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Another day, another party leader on the Today Programme.  This time it was David Cameron, and his interrogator was Evan Davis.  My quick capsule review would be that the Tory leader did quite well, sounding measured and reasonable for most of the twenty minutes - which is certainly better than Brown managed yesterday.  But for more, read on...

Unsurprisingly, Davis led on this morning's FT interview with Peter Gershon, the Tories' efficiency advisor, who has fleshed out some of the party's spending plans.  This was the most aggressive segment of the interview, with Davis asking how many job losses would be incurred by a "£2 billion saving on public sector pay rolls."  And Cameron explained, clearly enough, that it's "not about firing people - it's about not filling vacancies when they arise."  When pushed for an actual number, he seemed to agree that this would mean about 20,000-40,000 fewer jobs than if Labour were in charge.  And, in a slight sign of the Tories' growing intellectual self-confidence, he also agreed that you could summarise the Tory position as "core public spending will be lower, taxes will be lower".

Indeed, agreement was the order of the day - and Cameron used the tactic to defuse many of Davis's questions.  When Davis said, rightly, that many £billions more would need to be cut in future, in addition to what the Tories have announced now, Cameron simply said: "Even after our plans for public sector pay and pensions, benefits, ID cards - yes, it's still not enough. I accept that."  But he added that we'd need to wait until the Tories have sifted through the books before we hear more.

There was even a rare mis-step from Davis, as he questioned whether the Tories were right to blame Gordon Brown for a rising gap between rich and poor.  "The respected IFS," said Davis, "say that Brown's tax credits and benefit measures have reduced the gap from what it would have been otherwise."  Well, perhaps.  But the gap has still increased over the New Labour years, and Davis got so tongue-tied trying to explain this that his words came out as: "So the gap has reduced, and, yes, the gap has increased."  To which Cameron replied: "So you agree with us, then. You just said that the gap has increased."  It was striking to then hear the Tory leader paraphrase that "tough on the causes of crime" maxim, by saying that "you can't just transfer money from the rich to the poor, you've got to tackle the reasons why people are poor in the first place."  Very true.

As the interview relaxed, towards the end, Cameron almost came unstuck on the kind of "What's your favourite biscuit?" type question which befuddled Brown a few months ago.  "Which is your newspaper?" asked Evan Davis - to which, Cameron umm-ed and ahh-ed, clearly concerned that to name one paper or another would risk alienating millions of voters who read something else.  In the end, he just said that "this is not the stage on which to make enemies of newspapers."

Cameron then wrapped things up with a frank admission that he hadn't removed the Punch and Judy element from British politics. "Prime Minister's Questions is like ... the Christians being fed to the lions in the Colosseum.  You're either a Christian or your a lion," he said.  An ok analogy, I thought.  But I can see tomorrow's Labour posters already: "Cameron eats Christians in the House of Commons".