James Forsyth

Cameron would be advised to talk about people power

Cameron would be advised to talk about people power
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David Cameron was speaking in odd circumstances today. He was talking to a party that was back in power after more than a decade in opposition. But unlike Tony Blair in 1997 he couldn’t devote his speech to a celebration of that both because his party did not win a majority and because of the situation the country is in. To compound this, Cameron was speaking a fortnight before the spending review; further tying his hands in terms of what he could say.  

Politically, the principal argument that Cameron wanted to make was about fairness. He was trying to move fairness from being purely about redistribution to one about reciprocity, about people deserving the help that they are given. If Cameron can succeed in this argument, he’ll move the centre of gravity in British politics.

There was also yet another attempt to get the Big Society going as a theme. The thinking behind the Big Society is, I think, right. But I fear that the brand is now toxic, that it can’t make it through the filter. At an election review fringe meeting during conference, activist after activist complained that the phrase just didn’t work on the doorstep.

Cameron would be well-advised to shift to talking more about a transfer of power and less about the big society. One of the best lines in the speech was when Cameron declared, "We are the radicals now, breaking apart the old system  with a massive transfer of power, from the state to citizens, politicians to people, government to society."

I suspect, though, that in terms of the next election, tomorrow will be more important than today’s speech. Shadow Cabinet results will be announced tomorrow morning (Update: They are actually out at 10pm)  and Ed Miliband, if he is to avoid the charge of being a ditherer, will have to quickly decide who to appoint as his shadow Chancellor, whether or not to adopt a Ballsian approach to the deficit. It could turn out to be a defining choice.