Fraser Nelson

Cameron needs to up his game

Cameron needs to up his game
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Cameron is set to deliver a fiery speech to the Tory spring conference, but events are moving fast and he's struggling to keep up. For a start, last week's Budget implied 2.3 percent spending cuts for the three years covered by next year's spending review. Cameron was still talking about spending "growth" in his Cardiff speech last month, and Darling buried this idea before he did. There is a strong case for the government to spend less of other people's money, not just "restraint" in the increases. But I suspect we won't hear it today.

Instead, the case we are hearing from the Tories often lacks coherence.  ConservativeHome tells us that Andrew Lansley is talking about protecting his NHS budget. As health is the no.1 bill, this would imply 4 percent cuts in other areas like education. Yet international development is still scheduled to rise. Go figure.

I say in my News of the World column today that there is a sense of unease across the Tory party. Candidates report how hard it is to persuade voters that Cameron has an agenda equal to the desperate situation. Shadow ministers wonder if there is a radical plan being kept quiet, or whether there is no plan at all. As ConHome recently asked: is Osborne cautious because of electoral positioning, or is he just cautious?

The Budget changed things. From now, everyone - the City, the rich, sovereign wealth funds - are looking to the Tories and their intentions. It will no longer do to say "Gordon is a Moron" - or the more sophistocated political equivalent. Do the Tories believe in the principle of taxing the rich more, in a way Blair did not? Would they close the fiscal hole faster, thereby making Britain less of a credit risk? Or are they just as squeamish about cuts?

From what I have seen of Cameron's speech, it falls short of answering these questions. He will be understandably torn: so much of what now needs to be done was in 2006 seen as anathema to the modernisers' agenda. But when Labour is proposing sharp spending cuts (post-election, natch) the Tories can hardly oppose. The next parliament will not merely be about restraint, it will be about radical restructuring. This means more than the usual efficiency reviews. It's about saving Britain by cutting the cost of government, and significantly. Like it or not, cuts now have to be the Tory agenda. And Cameron has little time to waste finding a way of selling this to an anxious nation ready to hear hard truths.

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.

Topics in this articlePolitics