Cameron was first up, setting out a three-step plan for boosting British business. Broadly speaking, it revolved around what the government is trying to achieve in the Spending Review – and so the PM boasted that, "last week, we took Britain out of the danger zone." He added, "The sharp tax rises and huge interest rates you feared, the uncertainty you felt – these are things you no longer need to worry about." And, from there, he set out one or two specific policies have been penned into the coalition's prospectus, such as lower corporation tax and £200 million for new Technology and Innovation Centres.
All of this was put across with what, to my ears, was a degree of certitude and intellectual self-confidence. At times – as when Cameron declared, "The new jobs, the new products, the new ideas that will lift us up will be born in the factories and offices you own, not in the corridors of Whitehall" – there was even something of Thatcher in the speech.
As for Ed Miliband, he delivered a speech that was more or less right for the audience – but there was still too much of the "on the one hand, on the other hand" wavering that afflicted his conference address. What should have been an attack on the pace of the government's deficit reduction plan got submerged beneath too many caveats and sub-clauses; too much equivocation about the "important lessons to be learned about why the deficit went up so significantly". This is, MiliE's supporters claim, all part of coming across reasonably – and, normally, that's probably true. But here it just sounded equal parts unclear and uncertain.
Miliband was better when it came to making the case for a more varied economy, with support for support for manufacturing and technology (although Cameron had pre-empted much of that in his speech). The Labour leader's claim that, "globalisation – trade and immigration – had the effect of squeezing out middle-income jobs, and holding down wages in a number of sectors in our economy," struck me as significant. This keys right into what Fraser calls the British Economic Dysfunction, and is likely to be a crucial battleground over this parliament.
As for the CBI, they've already passed judgement on the two speeches via a pair of press releases. Their conclusion? That "the CBI firmly believes that the budget deficit must be tackled during the lifetime of this Parliament." Score this one for the Prime Minister.