Fraser Nelson

Cameron steps up his game

Cameron steps up his game
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There’s something about a trip to Scotland that brings out the best in Tories giving speeches, and David Cameron lived up to the occasion the other evening. He reprised his social justice passage – easily the best part of his 2009 conference speech. Listing how Labour has made the rich richer and poor poorer, and how the Tories are the party of Wilberforce etc. Promising a “radical zeal” Conservative party – Amen to that. “Some people will say 'you can't do things like that.  You can't afford to take those risks.' I say with so little money and so much failure we can't afford not to.” That’s the spirit.  “Those cuts are coming: make no mistake they are Gordon Brown’s cuts,” he added. Good – this point needs to be hammered home time and time again. They will be Brown’s tax rises too, which is why they should be called a “debt levy”. The Tories need to pin ownership of the pain to Brown. They must be absolutely brutal in doing so.

Most of all, Keith Joseph (if I can be forgiven for mentioning him again) distinguished the Middle Ground of Westminster from the Centre Ground which the Tories shares with the people. Cameron (who himself gave the CPS Keith Joseph Memorial lecture before he was made leader) has explicitly pitched his big tent on the latter. “The centre ground is not a vague place people cannot picture in their lives - it is their life. It's the school they send their child to. The hospital they visit their mother in. The family they nurture, the community they share, the country they love. So when you're on that doorstep, or writing that leaflet, or making that phone call, remember this: The Conservative Party is back and it's back where it belongs - in the centre ground of British politics.“

I have huge faith in Cameron’s versatility as a politcian: when he’s off course, he can correct himself. I suspect he knows there has been drift in the last few weeks: he corrected that drift in October 2007 with the Lazarus II conference in Blackpool (Lazarus I being his leadership election in 2005). He’s plenty capable of a Lazarus III and making his promised “radical zeal” more than just a few words. So I’m looking forward to sitting back and watching him do it.

UPDATE: Oh, and three niggles...

1. Cameron is right to denounce the “short-changing” of the military, but these words will haunt him if he goes on to implement 18 percent defence cuts, as looks likely

2. On health, he says “we will protect the NHS. We will spend more on it, not less.” This is a verbal snare: Labour language which comes at a cost. When Cameron is cutting the schools budget, does this mean he is not “protecting education?” He needs to sever Labour’s link between care and cash. Cameron put it well earlier in his speech, actually. “How do we make things better without just spending money?" And this is the question to which we, the modern, radical Conservative party, have the answers.”

3. Also he should be really careful in promising “lower debt” because, unless he intends to turn the gargantuan deficit into a healthy surplus, it’s not something he’ll be delivering in his first term. National debt will rise by at least 20 percent under the Tories.