Peter Hoskin

Cameron sets the mood for Birmingham

Cameron sets the mood for Birmingham
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It's that time of year again: Conservative Party conference. And with it comes wall-to-wall David Cameron. Our PM has a couple of interviews in the newspapers today and, to accompany them, he slotted in an appearance on the Marr show earlier. In all three, he hops neatly across the all same lily pads – spending cuts, IDS's historic benefit reforms and the defence budget – making the points and arguments you might expect. Yet two snippets stand out, and are worth pasting into the scrapbook.

First, Cameron's claim on Marr that, "We have got to ask, are there some areas of universal benefits that are no longer affordable?" It may not be surprising that he's prodding this question into the open – after all, the story that the coalition will restrict universal benefits has been whirling around for a few months now – but it's still the closest that Cameron has come to admitting that his government will do just that.

What I expect we'll see in the couple of weeks before the Spending Review is a gentle softening-up process on universal benefits. The Tories are fully aware that they made a some prominent commitments during the election campaign that may have to be retracted – and that Labour are ready to pounce on the alleged inconsistency. Cameron's words today represent a careful start to what is likely to be, as I've said before, one of the defining debates of this Parliament.

And then there's Cameron's bark in the News of the World, "Let's put these cuts into perspective. Many businesses have had to make far greater reductions than us in one year." It's a similar rhetorical shift to the one made by Nick Clegg last month: from warning about the fiscal hurricane to come, to suggesting that the weather isn't all that terrible after all. One of our regular cover artists, Christian Adams, captures this theme perfectly in a cartoon for the Sunday Telegraph today. Expect Cameron, and his Tory cohorts, to stir more sunshine into the mix over the next few days.